Don’t you forget about geeks
I personally am a sucker for anything 80s; cheesy pop music, colourful 80s comics, even more colourful 80s legwarmers and yes, 80s film. The 80s were responsible for so many film phenomena that it’s difficult to know where to start. From the huge breakthrough in sci-fi filmmaking with Star Wars and Back to the Future, to the birth of such horror villains as Freddy and Jason, and the hugely popular dance-rom-coms such as Flashdance, Footloose and Dirty Dancing, the 80s were undeniably an incredibly productive time with regards to instant cult classics and the playful exploration of genre. However, the thing I think of most when I think of 80s film is the Brat Pack classics, and in particular the films of John Hughes.
I could talk endlessly about all the obvious stuff like how his films epitomised and preserved the teenage angst of a generation, and how his direction and screenwriting is now so synonymous with the teen movie that his techniques are more parody than procedure. However, what’s always interested and confused me in his films is the question of why the hell, in films which glorify the outcasts and the oddballs, the geek seemingly never gets the girl.
Take, for example, the 1985 masterpiece The Breakfast Club. The film is undeniably one of the greatest and most acclaimed coming-of-age stories of all time, and helped make the names of numerous actors such as Judd Nelson, Molly RIngwald and Anthony Michael Hall. But for all their quirks and confessions all the characters end up with a significant other by the time detention, and their 90 minutes of screen time, is up. All except poor geeky Brian.
This happens again in my personal favourite John Hughes creation, the ultimate tale of rebellion which non-silver screen teenagers can only dream of that is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I wouldn’t even try and explain in this blog post what makes this film so utterly perfect; even beginning to think about the “Bueller……Bueller…..Bueller” scene reduces me to a giggling wreck. For everything that makes this film so great, including Ferris and Sloan’s understated yet naively idyllic romance, the one fatal flaw that leaves the viewer feeling somewhat unsatisfied is the fact that poor Cameron (apart from a glimpse at a scantily clad Sloan) never fulfils any kind of romantic inclination he might have. He doesn’t even seem to get the same dignity as “The Geek” in Sixteen Candles of having his happy ending hinted at.
However, with both of these characters it can be assumed that their lack of romantic happy ending hints at the deeper meaning that their self-discovery holds. While the other members of the Breakfast Club discovered their boundaries and true identities through the connections they made with the others i.e the “criminal” with the “princess”, and the “athlete” with the “basket case”, Brian is left to realise of his own accord that “When I look in at myself you know? And I see me and I don’t like what I see, I really don’t.” It’s the same case with Cameron after his epiphany before and after wrecking his Dad’s car, during which he emotionally realises that “I’m not gonna sit on my ass, as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m gonna take a stand.” Perhaps with these characters what appears to be them taking a back seat to the more macho or the more likeable characters, can actually be seen as them finding their own happy endings without the need for others, which in its own way is more hopeful than the blossoming of a new romance.
BUT, there is one film which stops me from drawing this rather neat conclusion with regards to the geeks of John Hughes movies, and that is the 1986 Pretty in Pink, which although not directed by Hughes was written and produced by him. I think if I were to make a list of the most disappointing movie endings, this one would come somewhere in between Return of the King and The Godfather Part 3. What made Pretty in Pink so disappointing was that, unlike the “geeks” of Ferris Bueller and Breakfast Club, Duckie’s entire story seems to revolve around his absolute and undying commitment to Andie. I’ll give you that he comes across a little obsessive at times, but his likeability is driven home so hard throughout the movie through his quirky, witty personality and his killer dance moves that we can’t help but root for him. And so, when he arrives at the prom to meet Andie I for one couldn’t help but see a glimmer of hope for our geeky hero’s romantic bliss finally, FINALLY being realised. But, alas, Andie runs back in to the arms of the entirely underwhelming, humourless and pathetically moustached Blane McDonough. Although we do see Duckie being beckoned to dance by a “popular” girl, it doesn’t feel like the romantic resolution we’d been hoping for for him.
There are a couple of explanations as to why this ending was decided upon. Firstly, there is the opinion that Ducky was in fact gay, and at a cast reunion Molly Ringwald went as far as outing Cryer’s character. However, Cryer seems to be pretty firmly against this opinion and is adamant that that wasn’t how he intended to play the character and was not how the character was written. The second theory is that it was due to a lack of chemistry between Cryer and Ringwald. Originally Hughes had Robert Downey Jr. in mind for the role of Duckie, and it is generally thought that had Downey Jr. taken the role there would have been more sexuality to the role of Duckie than Cryer could provide, and the original ending of Duckie and Andie ending up together would have in fact taken place.
However, my own personal theory is that Andie simply isn’t good enough for Duckie. Despite her “scorned outcast” background due to her being poor, Andie manages to come across as ungrateful and petulant when it comes to her friendship with Duckie. Much as I love Molly Ringwald, this might have just been the old habit of playing the stroppy, prissy types in films. In my mind, Andie certainly doesn’t deserve Duckie’s devotion and goes as far as to throw it back in the poor guy’s face, so really I have to ask myself whether I would have been truly happy had they gotten together. All in all I felt a bit let down by Pretty in Pink; it has all the components of a John Hughes classic, but doesn’t leave you satisfied and empowered like many of his other films. So for me it’s less a case of Save Ferris, and more a case of Save Duckie.
Anyway, I’ll stop this rant now and leave you with something that no John Hughes post would be complete without.