I went straight to Pretty in Pink
in my music library and played The Psychedelic Furs’ original then The National and The Dresden Dolls’ covers to write the introduction for this batch of films. John Hughes, who hails from the Land of Lincoln, is the poet of family and growing up—writing and/or directing such films as Mr. Mom
, the National Lampoon Vacation
movies, Sixteen Candles
, The Breakfast Club
, Weird Science
, The Great Outdoors
, Home Alone
, Planes, Trains and Automobiles
, and the Chicago classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
. This list is rounded out by films that can trace some of their elements to Mr. Hughes (specifically Safety Not Guaranteed, Damsels in Distress
, and Crazy, Stupid, Love
.) while the Woody Allen, Richard Linklater, and Bradley Rust Grey films maintain their poignancy through a balance of drama with comedy as the best John Hughes films often do.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Howard Deutch expertly directs this John Hughes comedy about high school, love (romantic/familial), friendship, and the socioeconomic factors that separate Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy, and James Spader (no surprise, as a rich creep), playing mature-looking high school students in an 80s movie. Duckie (Cryer) dancing and lip synching to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” remains legendary. Do not underestimate the greatness of this film’s soundtrack, from The Psychedelic Furs’ song that inspired the movie title and OMD’s highly popular “If You Leave” to The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.”
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Woody Allen uses a novelistic approach to telling the story of three sisters (and each one’s relationships) played by Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Dianne Wiest intertwined with his character’s (as Hannah’s ex-husband) comic encounters with possible death, various faiths/religions, and his ex-wife’s family. Michael Caine turns in a superb performance as Hannah’s husband who has a crush on Ms. Hershey’s character (he actually ‘swoons’) and Max Von Sydow gets to deliver this line: “If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.” No other writer/director was as productive and consistently great as Woody Allen from the late 70s to late 80s.
Before Sunrise (1995) / Before Sunset (2004)
These series of films are about a young American and a Parisian woman who meet on a train then spend a night talking and wandering around Vienna (Before Sunrise
) and their meeting in Paris ten years later (Before Sunset
). Both films have a kind of magic to them—within the stolen moments that I am glad they have shared with us. Before Sunset
blurs the line between the characters memories and its audience’s memories of the first film, especially if you are lucky enough to have seen each film during their respective releases (ten years apart). Before Sunrise
leaves one to wonder what happens to Jessie (Ethane Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) at its close, but luckily for us Richard Linklater and his actors wondered the same thing and presented us with another gift.
The Exploding Girl (2009)
Bradley Rust Gray’s indie film features a luminous performance from Zoe Kazan; a simple story of her coming home to Brooklyn while on spring break and hanging out with one of her longtime friends played by Mark Rendall. It is a study in close up of a busting city, interiors, and rooftop landscapes; loneliness and connection; and small pleasures and anxieties. Kazan’s character has epilepsy; the title comes from the song “The Exploding Boy,” the B-side of the single “In Between Days” by The Cure (In Between Days
was the title of Bradley Rust Gray’s wife’s previous film).
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
Quite possibly the most likeable mainstream comedy in years due to a story that is much less glossy than it looks.
Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore are in the midst of a divorce; Ryan Gosling (in super-smooth mode) spends his evenings playing the field until he falls for Emma Stone, who makes him feel less ‘cool’ (Dirty Dancing
fans be on watch)—their stories meet at a bar and Ryan Gosling gives Steve Carrell pointers on how to be a ‘man’ and a ‘ladykiller’ in order to make his ex-wife “rue the day” that she asked for a divorce and started dating Kevin Bacon (yes, that Kevin Bacon). Analeigh Tipton, who plays the babysitter with a crush on Steve Carrell, steals a number of scenes. However, it is the scene when all their stories converge that is made of pure comic gold.
Damsels in Distress (2011)
Perhaps this movie belongs in the “Worlds of Their Own” category with its Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona,
and The Last Days of Disco
) dialogue and earnestness along with a similarity to Heathers
(1988) but in a less dark, more subtle shade. Greta Gerwig continues her hot streak as the new indie film ‘It’ girl—caring that torch with grace and a string of outstanding performances. Analeigh Tipton (also in Crazy, Stupid, Love
.) plays the lead character in Damsels
serving as the audience’s window into this world; think Winona Ryder in Heathers
or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby
. Only super-literate movies make me think of such references.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s charming comedy starring Aubrey Plaza (from TV’s Parks and Recreation
) and Mark Duplass is about a magazine’s writers investigating a newspaper classified ad that asks for “Someone to go back in time with…” Left in plain sight, the primary metaphor of one’s belief in time travel and making a time machine is equivalent to believing in something you love and working hard to build something that will take you there. Mark Duplass’ character (who put up the ad about time travel) and his circumstance slowly chips away at Ms. Plaza’s (and our) skepticism. Even Jake Johnson’s (from TV’s The New Girl
) periphery storyline extends the metaphor of going to the past to recover an old flame.