Writer and sometime director John Hughes has been the subject of conversation again recently. First off, and like many involved in making iconic movies in the 80s, he is heavily mentioned in Spielberg’s Ready Player One. Beyond this though his one time muse has been musing on how his films stand up again the new standards of an audience newly sensitive to the trivialisation of sexual abuse on screen. Molly Ringwald’s excellent article in The New Yorker What About The Breakfast Club: Revisiting the movie’s of my youth in the age of #MeToo spotlights the problems with Judd Nelson’s character’s treatment of hers in that film as well as worse problems with Sixteen Candles. Sadly, viewed through 2018’s belated chauvinism filter a lot of John Hughes films do not look the same kind of wonderful as they once did. There is still much to admire in his teen movies but they are problematic in ways at best we’ve previously not noticed or at worst have excused. Thankfully Pretty in Pink comes out okay as this has long been my favourite of Hughes’ work but we live in enlightened times and much of what was funny or cool has ceased to be so. I used to think the ‘nice beaver’ joke in Naked Gun was hilarious but now it feels horribly distasteful and I’m embarrassed I ever thought otherwise.
John Hughes essentially had three careers. The one he is most celebrated for authentically chronicling teenage life, the one he started out with when he was scripting bawdy gags for National Lampoon and the one he ended with rolling out kid’s films like Home Alone, Beethoven and Baby’s Day Out. There are a few outliers like his sublime 1994 adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street and possibly Planes, Trains and Automobiles but I suspect I ought to watch that one again to check it’s still okay.
One I have watched again is the rarely mentioned She’s Having a Baby from 1988. Both written and directed by Hughes it came at a time when he was moving away from teen dramas and beginning to focus more on children. Accordingly it tells the story of two twenty somethings settling down in work and wedlock and eventually starting a family. (She’s only actually having a baby for about a third of the film’s running time. It could have had a more applicable title.) This is one of those films that tells the story of what happens after the romantic will they/won’t they set up and while it is a little cliched in its depiction of early marriage and joining the rat race it plays its familiar hand well. In some respects it is similar to movies like Parenthood, Forget Paris, Nine Months and even When Harry Met Sally and while it is not up there with the best of these it has real charm.
Much of the appeal comes from the leads, Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth McGovern (now best known as Cora in Downton Abbey). Both show warmth and humour and their love for one another seems genuine and touching even when tested. The success of the film is down to Hughes though, showing restraint when he needs to while also pushing forward with regular Ally McBeal style fantasy sequences with surprising regularity. The lawn mower dance routine is a highlight. There are a few occasions when Hughes’ camera focuses in on various women’s body parts but there are narrative reasons for it and he just keeps things the right side of sexist. Certainly there is nothing here that sends the wrong message as his other films are being called out for doing.
She’s Having a Baby is light entertainment falling between Hughes’ realism work and his later slapstick, but like all of his best films there are truths at the heart of it and it goes to some quite serious places at the end. Unsurprisingly it feels a little dated, especially when you look at Kevin Bacon’s hair, and if it were made now it would concentrate a little more on McGovern; despite the title it’s his story. At its essence though the film is about growing up and taking responsibility and this is universal. In the end it holds up in all of the places it needs to which is more can clearly be said for all of Hughes filmography.
After watching The Last Starfighter and Buckaroo Banzai, I’m pleased to say this is the lost 80s gem I’ve been looking for. Search it out.