Life Is Not A John Hughes Movie

I have a Word doc on my PC, somewhere in the deep deep storage, that I think I originally entitled “My advice to my unborn son.” I think I was originally inspired to start the doc because of a tradition my Dad started before I was born: he used to write a letter to himself every year about how things were for the family and after we took down the house’s Christmas decorations he would pack it along side the lights and ornaments. The next year, when we would start the annual decorating, he would open up the letter and read it, to see how far we’d come or slid back, since one never knew how things would turn out year over year. Then he’d throw it out. Never understood that part of it, but hey – it was his thing.

I realized pretty quickly after he was born that I had my son at an older age than a “traditional” father does, so I was thinking that writing a letter to my son’s future self could be… handy? amusing? interesting? OK, likely as boring as fuck, but if it’s the last chance I have to explain some of the choices I made for him or where the world was at the time of his youth, I didn’t want by pass that by not writing something down, so I cracked open Word and had a go at it. What’s in it? Frankly, I don’t remember because it’s been a while since I’ve added to it, but as I was taking him to summer camp today, one bit of advice came back to me like a ton of bricks and if this is the only advance that he – or any young kid – can learn from the body of my experience on this spin rock in space, it’s this one simple thing:

Life is not a John Hughes movie.

Seriously, this is critical. Maybe most people know this instinctively or maybe I’m the screwball that took all those 80’s movies to heart, but it’s a huge, huge thing to learn, especially for a young person that is trying to woo someone else. The earlier ya learn it, the better of ya are. Let me explain.

I’m going to start with a Cameron Crowe movie actually, but since Hughes has a bunch of coming of age movies in the 80s, I use him as “The Guy.” Back to Crowe, consider Say Anything… as a life lesson. I love Lloyd as a character: he knows what he wants in life and he’s willing to work hard and be flexible in working to get there. I love Diane because as smart as she is, she actually learns that she has the capacity to grow – intellectually and emotionally – and discovers she’s a super strong person to deal with the heart renting disappointment of both of her parents. I even like James Court because he fucks up in various ways but owns up to it, albeit a bit after the fact. But here’s the rub.

The boombox scene? Common reaction is “Oh, how romantic!” Fuck that, folks. I get it, we’re watching the story unfold, we want Diane to follow her heart and Lloyd to get the girl, but we’re outside the story. Consider this scene at the moment is shows up in the story: that scene is 100% creepy stalker guy. Sure, Diane knows Lloyd, but she also broke up with him. Sure Lloyd loves Diane, but he’s… well stalking her. Consider you’re Diane and you don’t like the guy anymore – is it romantic? Is it sweet? Or is it a midnight 911 “this guy is stalking me” call for help? In the movies, when it’s on rails, and you know the feelings of all involved, it’s romantic. In the real world – where we’re usually not on the outside and watching with an omniscient point of view – her papa is comin’ out with a shotgun (at least in some parts on the country) or you’re going to spend a night in the clink for harassment.

Consider Alanis Morissette’s song, “You Oughta Know.” The song has balls and I dig that. I get where the song is coming from: she totally loved a guy, broke up with her, and is basically giving her the middle finger by getting a new gf/wife/family and moving on. She’s pissed, she’s hurt, she wants to kick him in the dick, and right on. Women listened to this song and picked up like an weapon, an anthem that would live forever for the jilted. But there are two sides to this story and we’re only getting one through the lyrics.

Have you ever wondered about the guy’s position in this? Sure, he could have been a total dick, two-timed her, or found a woman to be with 2 hours after they broke up, but that’s not in the song. We’re injecting that on our own, from what we’ve seen in our lives, so for a moment, lets give the guy the benefit of the doubt for a moment. What if he simply fell out of love? What if the woman singing the lamented loss was simply a bad fit for the guy? Maybe a little too angry or edgy while they were together? Obsessively controlling over time? What if he was a stand up guy, broke up with her before finding anyone else to be with, and some years later he met someone new, fell in love, got married, and started a family and our singer is sitting outside of his dining room window pining for him and still looking for revenge? What if this was Alex Forrest was singing this song in Dan Gallagher’s kitchen just before she threw that poor fuzzy bunny into a pot of boiling water?

Most people don’t ever take the time to think about this “reverse angle” to the Alanis song. I get that. I also get that there’s far more jilted women dicked over by fucked up men than the inverse but still, I don’t know that this should be an anthem for people in every situation. At some point, ya gotta say, “It’s over Johnny.”

And that comes back to the John Hughes comment: his teenage-focused movies were a glimpse of make believe but hit so closely on some many things that it became a “how to” guide for tweens and teenagers that wanted to live what they were seeing. Not She’s Having a Baby or Vacation because those movies are golden classics. I’m talking about the angsty teenage collection of movies that landed in the mid-80s that Consider The Breakfast Club: first of all who in the hell shows up to Saturday detention at a public school system? True, there’s no grand gestures of romance in this movie to woo the wanted partner, but what about Duckie in Pretty In Pink? Yes, that Duckie because as it turns out that if the casting were different, the original version the movie had Andi and Ducky ending up together, so yeah, it always works in the movies. Acting gallantly at every turn? Gestures like kissing the hand, the m’lady bit, putting banners on front lawns to proclaim feelings, sending anonymous music, leaving flowers or poem or anything of the kind? It only works in real life, if there is already a relationship to grow on. Does The Breakfast Club escape this trend? Not really. Look how the characters end at the end of the movie: Claire ends up with John, Allison with Andrew, and Brian with the writing assignment (which he did nail, so there is that.) That’s a great big swirl of fantasy and reality which actually makes the fantasy more realistic or believable. Better mixed than a DQ Blizzard. Also doesn’t change the fact that when Brian says hi to Andrew on Monday morning, he’s not getting shoved in a locker and yes: John will definitely be telling all his friends he shtook Claire, if he’s nice to her during school. Would have added even more realism if they shot that scene but hey: they muted the fantasy without it pretty well.

Back to Duckie. It took a bit from a chapter of Ready Player Two to put light on a thought that I might have had once and shoved to the wee back of my brain because I like John Cryer as an actor: Duckie was a bit of an asshole. Yes he’s quirky and funny but he’s also stalking Andie 24/7. She’s been clear about her feelings yet Duckie keeps wooing her. Loudly. Embarrassing her in hallways with gushing love or compliments. Punching Steff (or trying to) to defend her honor. Acting like a dick at the bar Claire brings Blane to rather than supporting his friend.

I saw something like this play out once on a Metro-North train. In fact I probably blogged about it already but anyway: some freshman-ish high school boy was heading to school and chatting up a junior-ish ballet student going into Manhattan. She puts up with the conversation well enough but you can tell that she wants to get back to her book, but the kid was polite. His stop comes up, he reaches for her hand and she moves to shake it; he raises it up, gives the back of her hand a quick peck and jumps off the train. He’s walking away positively beaming because he’s thinking he’s shared in a love-at-first-sight heart-melting moment that will be forever remembered; she’s in the a pulling away train going “UUUUGH!” and wiping the back of her hand on her coat before sitting back down in disgust and outrage. Heavy drama on both sides, but to what end? If he shook her hand, he’s polite and maybe she remembers that; he goes for the grand romantic gesture because he’s seen all the movies, heard all the songs, read all the books and kaPOW: total miss. Same type of plot line in MegaTokyo, where Piro gives his rail card to a stranger that needed it, while being completely depressed over I forgot what. He sees it as a grand, selfless gesture; the strange (Kimiko) sees as “who does that to a stranger?” and “is he tryng to buy my attention with a rail card?”

Basically, girls are simply smarter than guys. If you have to have that statement quantified, it is especially true in a traditionally defined heterosexual situation/relationship.

Today, while driving it was a love song – “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift – that popped this whole rambling post into my head. The kid was listening to the song and started asking me questions about who, what, and why, because even at 8 years old, he’s grasped the concept of love triangle that is out of balance. Those unfamiliar with the song, it’s sung by a “regular” girl to her friend that she wants to date; the friend is dating the “cheer captain” type of girl who is an OK person – per the singer’s point of view – but a bad fit for her friend/love interest. Basically the singer and her friend dig enough other’s music, humor, known each other for a while; the cheerleader doesn’t have as much in common and it is implied in the song that she’s sorta high maintenance/overhead. Kid says to me that this hasn’t happened to him and I said that’s not a bad thing: it’s hard to be in a position like this because you run the risk of losing the friendship for the romantic relationship and, well, most people are going to risk that friendship to chase the chance at a new romantic relationship? Especially for guys: they’d walk across a bed of heated broken glass to get with someone they like. The sad truth for the girl singing is that the guy just doesn’t think of that way. Or maybe he’s blind to the possibility or well… the sad truth a lot of people don’t like to hear is that you can’t choose who you like. The kid figured that out on his own already – and I don’t really want to know how – but I’ll likely remind him as a tween.

Which brings up the challenge of the John Hughes movies as represented by a classic love song. It’s so… easy for a song writer to write a romantic love song. They are already good at writing and almost everyone has a unified idea of how loving/loved makes them feel, so it’s an easy subject to tackle. No matter which gender is coupled with which gender, loving someone or feeling loved by someone generally feels good to a human. These songs are also very, very irresponsible. Neil Peart was a master song writer. I mean masterful. Not because you’d have to look up some words before understanding the lyric but because was able to use those SAT works in his songs and it was just magical. On top of that, he made it look easy. I also believe he once said in an interview that he’d never write a love song because [paraphrasing] it’s irresponsible to raise expectations of what love is for people. Painting an impossible scene that no reality can live up to. Even though I cannot find the quote, I do know that Rush has published a “real” love song. “Entre Nous” comes close or maybe “Closer to the Heart” but they are not “head over heals” type songs, so I don’t call them that. No sappy/fantastical ballads for the power trio.

What they do have is a song called “Cold Fire” which is – in my opinion – a much better song than “You Oughta Know,” if someone is looking for a song about love or an anthem to throw at someone. It’s a deep track from a 20 year old album, but as near as I can tell, it’s a snapshot in time of a couple new in their relationship and they are about to get more serious about each other. One person – a guy as the pronouns read – is getting his expectations within his relationship with his girlfriend because, as the song says, “just don’t disappoint me – / you know how complex women are.” The two bits that get stuck in mind every single time I hear this song are “if love has these conditions / I don’t understand those songs you love / She said this is not a love song / This isn’t fantasy-land” followed up in the chorus by one of the most poignant lines that I have ever read, considering that when people shop for engagement rings they talk about how a diamond sparkles, because of the fire in the stone, “The flame at the heart of a pawnbroker’s diamond / Is a cold fire.”

Feelings are everything relationships like this. What separates hard-working determined passion from stalking? It’s all about the feelings. If the person you’re pursuing told you to drop dead, you can keep chasing that person but to what end? I myself learned as a kid – after chasing after a girl for months – that the chase was more exciting than the girl. It had nothing to do with her, either – she finally said, OK, lets go out and I said “Cool!” and through “now what?” When I thought about it, I realized what the draw was: the chase. Likewise, if you push too hard for an unrequited love too far, 99.44% of the time, you are actually pushing your hopes further and further away. John Hughes-styled movies don’t teach you that. They teach you that you keep trying. That’s great for sports or learning or a skill but to land a bf/gf who already told you “no?” And in some cases more than a dozen times? Not even Pretty In Pink‘s Duckie is a good lesson to learn because he tries and tries and tries and still ends up with a happy ending at the end of prom. Maybe if we knew he learned something after chancing Andie for years but more likely he felt he was owed something for the effort and we should be happy for him, but… the credits played well before that so here’s to hoping he learned something.

Sadly, a movie based on two people that build a relationship over time, get romantic about each other at the same time, and stay out of the Friend Zone is likely going to be a boring story. My hope is that the kid keeps fact and fiction separate as he gets older and avoids the destruction that comes from chasing the unobtainable for too long and with huge movie-powered gestures of admiration.

…and that he saves the grandiose gestures until he’s already with someone, because those are the people that will deserve it – that would be one little victory.

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