Everyone has blind spots when it comes to things they loved as a child: you don’t remember how shonky your favourite toys were, or how weirdly racist your most-adored first books could be. Partly, this is because you encountered these things as a child and so didn’t think to question them, but it’s also because you don’t want to question them, because questioning them means rewriting your happiest memories.
This is probably why John Hughes has got a free pass for so long. Many of us who are now adults grew up with his films and cherished them with the fond sentimentality French novelists reserve for madeleines. He is – rightly – held up as the man who brought a soulfulness to the teen genre, but that was never Hughes’s full story, really. So when Molly Ringwald, who starred in three of his teen movies, wrote in the New Yorker this week about rewatching those films in the #MeToo era and pointed out that, actually, Hughes’s teen films have some distinctly unsoulful elements to them, it was, for fans, as if the emperor’s most devoted courtier had pointed out his (semi) nudity. Ringwald cites 16 Candles in particular, although with its rapiness and racism, that movie has been pretty unwatchable for a while now, surviving only on nostalgia. But she also talks about The Breakfast Club, a film still genuinely so beloved that a restaurant chain is named after it. Yet the school thug (Judd Nelson) is vicious to Ringwald’s character throughout the film, even looking up her skirt in one scene and poking her in the vagina, and still she swoons into his arms at the end.
I have never loved The Breakfast Club, mainly because it is so weird about the two female teen characters: one gets together with her bully and the other (Ally Sheedy) has to have a makeover to be deemed socially acceptable. Hughes adored and respected Ringwald, but this only comes across in their last – and, uncoincidentally, best – film, Pretty in Pink.
Films from the 80s have lasted amazingly well, considering some are now almost 40 years old. But there is no doubt social attitudes have changed, particularly post #MeToo. Some clunkingly dated examples are obvious: everyone knows that Fatal Attraction is completely ridiculous about single women, and nobody watches 9½ Weeks for a healthy depiction of sexual politics. But it’s the creepy jokes and weird dynamics that can really make the heart sink.
Yet, as Ringwald rightly says, pointing out the flaws does not mean you have to disown it. It is part of being a grownup, as much as suddenly seeing your parents’ fallibilities and still loving them. You love things from the past with the heart of a child, but you can simultaneously see them through the eyes of an adult.