I’m going to take a brief break from recommending books about the horror genre so that I might take some time to recommend a book about another underappreciated genre of film, the 80s teen film.
I read You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried back in September and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It definitely contributed to my later enjoyment of Andrew McCarthy’s autobiography, Brat. At the same time, reading Brat also caused me to think even more about You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried. So, as you can see, it’s all just a circle of good film books.
You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried takes a look at the classic teen films of the 80s — Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and Say Anything. It also takes a look at two films that are a bit less interesting, St. Elmo’s Fire and Some Kind of Wonderful. (Sadly, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is pretty much left unexamined, except for a few references to it in the chapter about Say Anything.) The book explores how John Hughes revolutionized Hollywood by making films that took teenagers and their problems seriously, how he helped to launch a group of talented young actors to stardom while also inspiring directors like Cameron Crowe, and how one reporter managed to end it all by writing an article about the Brat Pack.
The film is full of not just reviews about and thoughts concerning the films but also the stories of how they came to be made. Did you know that Nicolas Cage and John Cusack both had a shot at being cast as Bender in The Breakfast Club? Did you know that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was originally envisioned as a vehicle for Anthony Michael Hall? Did you know that John Hughes came close to firing Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club and that it was Paul Gleason (who played Bender’s nemesis, Mr. Vernon) who talked him out of it? It’s all in there and it makes for an entertaining read. There’s something very sweet about discovering that the cast of the Breakfast Club were as close while filming as the characters were while serving detention. And, just as in Andrew McCarthy’s book, it’s very infuriating to learn how one reporter’s night out with Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez led to not only the creation of the Brat Pack label but also the tarring of any actor who was associated with the Brat Pack.
At times, it’s a bit of sad book. Not only did the Brat Pack label unfairly derail several promising careers but John Hughes himself turned his back on Hollywood. Sadly, no one in the book seems to be quite sure what inspired Hughes to abandon directing and become something of a recluse later in life. There is a lot of talk about how he lost his two early muses, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, to adulthood. Sadly, it appears that he didn’t have as much fun directing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as one might assume, largely because Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck were already established actors and didn’t need his mentorship in the way that Hall and Ringwald had. Hughes comes across as being a talented and sensitive man who was most comfortable expressing himself through the movies he made. When he stopped making those movies, he closed himself off from the world. One wonders how he would have reacted to the outpouring of grief that was inspired by his untimely death. Would he be touched? Would be embarrassed? One hopes that he would realize that his films touched the souls of viewers of all ages and, when he passed, it was the end of an era.
You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried captures that era in poignant and entertaining detail.