These movies all had the mark of excellent reporting, from a director who, at the time, was in his mid-30s. It seemed he listened to us, took notes, reflected it back. These movies look like the ’80s because it was the ’80s. The teenagers in “Sixteen Candles” look like teenagers because Hughes, for the most part cast teenagers — instead of 26-year-olds — to play teenagers. All the facts check out: The clothes are right from the mall. The soundtracks are like mix tapes from God. School looks like school, with all its cliques tagged and categorized by species, the way Principal Ed Rooney’s secretary, Grace (Edie McClurg), describes them in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off“: “The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies . . . they all adore [Ferris Bueller]. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
And yet, for all the universality in the Hughes high school movie, there were people who went to high school in the ’80s and did not always see themselves reflected therein. His world was white, suburban, middle-to-upper class, a place that had not yet undergone the diverse corrective of, say, “Clueless” or “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.” It was a world where parents left teenagers at home over the weekend and everyone drove drunk. This was not a perfect place, no matter how much perfect nostalgia we ascribe to it.
But it was “our” place, whomever “our” means. Years after the ’80s, a friend and I wondered if the popular kids had liked John Hughes movies, too, the way we had. How could they relate, after all, when the popular kids in those movies were portrayed as the enemy?
At the 20th reunion, I realized something: Everyone related. It turned out no one had felt cool in high school, not really, and that’s the story John Hughes told best.