THE BACK PAGES

The man who understood teenagers

A new documentary appeals to John Hughes, who hasn’t made a film in years, to come back

SHANDA DEZIEL November 13 2006
THE BACK PAGES

The man who understood teenagers

A new documentary appeals to John Hughes, who hasn’t made a film in years, to come back

SHANDA DEZIEL November 13 2006

The man who understood teenagers

THE BACK PAGES

media

A new documentary appeals to John Hughes, who hasn’t made a film in years, to come back

SHANDA DEZIEL

They just don't make teen movies like they used to, sighs every thirtysomething who remembers wanting to be Molly Ringwald or be with Molly Ringwald. Anyone who grew up in the era of John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc., thinks that the teens of today are getting short shrift from American Pie, Not Another Teen Movie and anything starring Lindsay Lohan or the Olsen twins. But it turns out this is not just one generation’s nostalgia or condescension. According to a new documentary, Don’t You Forget About Me—which examines the lasting impact of Hughes’s movies—today’s teens also cite those films as the ones that best represent the way they look, feel and act. According to the filmmaker, Matt Austin, “All the teens we interviewed said that they can’t relate to any of the movies that have come out for them in the last decade.” So Austin had the teens send a message to Hollywood and to Hughes. “To Hollywood,” says Austin, “they gave the finger and to Hughes they said, ‘Come back.’ ”

That’s not likely to happen. Hughes, 56, hasn’t directed a film since 1991’s Curly Sue. Every once in a while he pops up with a writing credit—providing a story outline or as a script editor—but otherwise, he’s completely distanced himself from Hollywood. He hasn’t given an interview since the ’80s (even then, they were few and far between)—and is thought to be living in Chicago or maybe Wisconsin. He’s the J.D. Salinger of the movie biz. But it’s become Austin’s mission to get the recluse on camera. (The documentary is in the last stages of production.)

After many dead ends, the filmmakers finally made a connection with Hughes’s lawyer.

“He’s on our side,” says Austin, “but even he says, ‘Good luck, John Hughes just doesn’t do interviews.’ ” So Austin is putting together a clip reel of people he’s talked to—teens, actors, filmmakers inspired by him—all saying, “Thank you” or “Come back.” Austin plans on giving that video to every single person who might be able to get it to Hughes. “Right now, I’m very hopeful that we’re going to get him. My genuine feeling is we’ll get a call.”

Austin didn’t have trouble finding other people to talk about Hughes. He and his writing partner Lenny Panzer had the idea one day, and by the next day they had producers, Kari Hollend and Michael Facciolo, and an interview set up with Ally Sheedy (The Breakfast Club). The film was in production within a week. “On other projects, when you tell people what you’re doing you get a mix of reactions,” says Austin, 28. “This is the first thing I’ve ever worked on where immediately everyone smiles and thinks it’s a great idea.” He interviewed actors Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club), Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller), Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science), as well as Simple Minds, who did The Breakfast Club theme song, Don’t You Forget About Me. He also has Roger Ebert, director Kevin Smith, the producers of Napoleon Dynamite, Degrassi creator Linda Schuyler, and other big names talking about the genius of Hughes.

The consensus is that Hughes understood

the awkwardness of being a teenager, he didn’t shy away from real emotions, and he cast actors that looked the way teens lookacne, braces, unwieldy bodies and all. “I identified most with Anthony Michael Hall,” says Austin, referring to one of the “brat pack” stars. “I was the blond-haired, gangly kid with the headgear. I could see myself in the characters he played but I never saw him as a geek. He was a hero to me, he got to hang out with all these guys. And he was witty and funny.” But teens don’t feel the same about the current crop of actors. “When you look at Molly Ringwald,” says Austin, “she’s very attainable. The kids we interviewed said all the girls in movies today, and the guys with square jaws, aren’t attainable.” Back in the days of Weird Science, the only perfect-looking girlslike LeBrock’s Lisa character—were the ones the teenage boys created themselves. Now all the females in teen movies are curvy and well-endowed. Or super-skinny like Lohan. And the guys are impossibly buff, like Chris Klein. It’s giving kids a warped sense of self, says Austin. “They see Seth on The OC and say, ‘That’s the geek?’ ”

Austin wants Hughes to see the film and know the extent of his impact. But it’s even more important, he says, for the documentary to reach those who haven’t fled Hollywood. “We’re making this so people who do make teen movies say, ‘Oh, so that’s what a teen feels like, or that’s what a teen’s concerns are. We just thought it was sex and mobile phones.’ ” M