John Hughes & Stereotypes
John Hughes—who made Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink—is one of the most celebrated and recognised directors to work in this genre. As Timothy Shary notes in Teen Movies: American Youth on Screen: “Hughes may not have represented all varieties of teen experience, and he did not eliminate the negative and simplistic depictions of teens that would mar some future films. He simply made films about young people on their level, appreciating their experiences rather than exploiting them. The best teen films since then have done the same.”5“The man’s gift as a screenwriter was monumental,” wrote Matt Dentler after the filmmaker’s death in 2009. “It wasn’t just about capturing the zeitgeist of modern teenagers in films like The Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink, it was also about the way his writing was just do damn sharp. So smart, so funny. And, without his influence, the face of modern Hollywood cinema would be entirely different. I’m convinced that without John Hughes, we would have no Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, or Wes Anderson. Plus, I’d argue that TV shows such as Seinfeld, The Simpsons, or The Office could not have succeeded without the road paved by his legacy.”“John Hughes wrote some of the great outsider characters of all time,” said Judd Apatow, the director of Drillbit Taylor. “It’s pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we’ve been doing, with outrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes’ films. Whether it’s Freaks and Geeks or Superbad, the whole idea of having outsiders as the lead characters, that all started with Hughes.“He touched a generation,” filmmaker Kevin Smith told the LA Times. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. Basically my stuff is just John Hughes films with four-letter words.
THE CONVENTIONS OF TEEN FILMS
Teen films, which focus on the lives of adolescents, often deal with themes of rebellion, friendship, love and rites-of-passage. They explore what it means to be on the cusp of adulthood. They’re about and for teenagers. Although other countries have produced teen films, it is a genre that very much developed in North America. Teen films often feature characters based on American stereotypes, such as cheerleaders.8STEREOTYPES IN TEEN FILMSIn The Breakfast Club, John Hughes deconstructs the well-established stereotypes of this genre. At the end of the film, writing a letter to the tyrannical Mr Vernon, Andrew Clark writes: “We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong…but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Does that answer your question?” One of the reasons that Mean Girls is such an engaging film, is the fact that it makes fun of these well-established stereotypes. As Janis shows the main character around, she points out some of the cliques that exist at their school: ”You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst.
Beware of plastics.
Although self-centered, back stabbing bimbos have long been a feature of teen films, it was Mean Girls(2004) that established the label ‘plastics’ to describe these superficial and vain characters. “They’re teen royalty,” says Damien from Mean Girls. “If North Shore was US Weekly, they’d always be on the cover
John Bender in The Breakfast Club. In The Breakfast Club, John Bender is the brooding and rebellious loner from an abusive family who finds himself in detention after setting off a fire alarm. He has an hostile relationship with the vice principal Mr Vernon, antagonising him at every opportunity. In 10 Things I Hate About You, Heath Ledger plays a violent loner who reputably “lit a state trooper on fire” and “sold his own liver on the black market for a new set of speakers.”
Andrew Clark in The Breakfast Club.In The Breakfast Club, John Bender (Judd Nelson) aptly sums up this stereotype when he says all you need to be a jock is “a lobotomy and some tights.” The Jock—who is usually arrogant and intimidating—is often the antagonist in teen films. “Here’s one of the great anomalies of the decade,” wrote Jonathan Bernstein in the book Pretty in Pink: The Golden Age of Teenage Movies. “What could be more inspiring, desirable and downright American than the prospect of young men and women engaged in the act of healthy competition?”
THE NERD Brian is typical of the Nerd in the film The Breakfast Club. He is smart, gets good grades, yet socially uncomfortable
PARENTS AND TEACHERS
Ben Stein as the boring Economics teacher in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. Teen films often focus on the generational gap between teenagers, their parents and their teachers. Parents and teachers are often portrayed as out-of-touch and unfair, they don’t understand what teenagers are going through. “Parents were tyrannical in their expectations. They were criminals in their neglect. They were simpleminded. They were devious,” writes Jonathan Bernstein in Pretty in Pink: The Golden Age of Teenage Movies.