Tuesday, August 05, 2008


I've spent a little time lately catching up with some John Hughes movies I haven't seen or haven't seen in years. I'm not quite sure why. I don't think, when you get down to it, John Hughes makes (or, made, really) very good movies. And catching up with and revisiting Hughes is surely less rewarding than, say, watching all those Robert Bresson movies I've never seen. (Then again, Au Hasard Balthazar kind of did a number on me.) But sometimes you just want to do something and you're not sure why. Hence, I just watched She's Having A Baby.

Filmed at roughly the same time as Planes, Trains, And Automobiles and released a year after Planes in 1988, She's Having A Baby was supposed to continue Hughes' move away from teen movies. It didn't. In fact, it was kind of a critical and commercial failure. Was it that Hughes' built-in teen audience weren't ready to follow him into adult stories?

Maybe. I was, at least in theory, one of those teens. I can't speak for anyone else, but Hughes movies like 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club were less an active influence on my teen years than part of the ambient noise. I watched Candles, Club, and Weird Science on video months after they played theatrically. I saw Ferris Bueller the summer it came out but skipped Pretty In Pink and Some Kind Of Wonderful until college and grad school respectively. But it didn't really matter. The movies were quoted constantly (sometimes hurtfully), the fashions trickled down to my junior high (half the girls in my 8th grade class showed up wearing vests in August of '86), and the soundtracks were everywhere. How did mid-'80s British synth pop come to define the sound of teen yearning for my generation? The careful combination of gauzy cinematography, quirkily beautiful actors, and inspired editing.

But back to the movie at hand. Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern play young marrieds who seem to hate each other. That's not really an exaggeration. There's a montage toward the end (more on that in a minute) filled with scenes of their happy life together, most of which we never saw watching the movie preceding it. Bacon's a whiny, creative type who ends up in advertising. McGovern is disapproving. They fight, occasionally about the expectations of their terrible in-laws and sometimes because they just fight. It threatens at any second to become a movie about getting divorced.

It's a weird mix of adult problems and juvenile gags that reveals how poorly the concerns of characters past the drinking age ft into Hughes' formulas. He'll latch onto a real problem--money woes, extramarital temptation, etc.--and then brush it aside with broad humor or a jokey fantasy sequence that reveal Hughes as a director either extremely comfortable with ambiguity or unsure about what he wants to say. Bacon and McGovern's neighbors (including, as was required at the time, Edie McClurg) are nightmares treated with affection. At one point, a suburban block party devolves into a cacophony of under-the-breath backbiting and shrill recrimination but there's an unmistakable fondness to the way it's presented as the score makes clear. Later, Bacon fantasizes a dance number involving those same neighbors and their lawnmowers. Is he going mad from his surrounding or falling for the place?

Either Hughes is playing it both ways or he doesn't know what he wants to say.

Elsewhere he's perfectly comfortable manipulating the audience to feel exactly what he wants it to feel. Cue the Kate Bush:

Yes, that montage alternated happy memories with surgical instruments. And what kind of wife plays "Gotcha!" with the possible death of a child? I don't see this marriage lasting. But Hughes never made me believe it was meant to last anyway.

A final note: Young Alec Baldwin is in this playing an '80s sleazeball and it's tough to underestimate how well that works.


Eric Grubbs said...

Never seen She's Having a Baby, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, or Pretty in Pink. I guess that disqualifies me from being a typical child of the eighties. I just watched Back to the Future, Star Wars, and Buckaroo Banzai over and over again on Beta.

Matter of fact, I think the only John Hughes movie I've seen is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I recently rented the older DVD version of it just to hear Hughes's commentary track.

Keith Phipps said...

The new I LOVE THE '80s-branded version restores that track.

Eric Grubbs said...

Wow. Ferris Bueller reissued again on DVD, less than a year after it was reissued for the second time? How's about an I LOVE THE 80s version of Evil Dead? It's possible with all their reissues . . .

stevie said...

I think this is one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time.