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Times move pretty fast! Rewatching 80s favourites in the age of #MeToo

Molly Ringwalds reappraisal of The Breakfast Club has thrown an uneasy light on other 80s classics, with their casual treatment of rape and abuse, dodgy sexual politics and breezy paedophilia. We look at 10 of the worst with fresh eyes

Everyone has blind spots when it comes to things they loved as a child: you dont 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 didnt think to question them, but its also because you dont 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 Hughess 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, Hughess teen films have some distinctly unsoulful elements to them, it was, for fans, as if the emperors 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 Ringwalds 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 9 Weeks for a healthy depiction of sexual politics. But its 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.

1 Weird Science

Weird
Weird Science. Photograph: Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Yup, more John Hughes. And thats because Hughes had such an odd sensibility, in that he was 50% a National Lampoon jokemeister with all the gross fratboy humour that entails, and 50% poetic bard of deep teenage feelings. By the time he made his later teen films, Ferris Buellers Day Off, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, he focused on the feelings, and thats why those films have lasted the best. But Weird Science, which was released between The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, is his one teen film that is pure fratboy, and thus has aged the worst. Two teenage boys (Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create a cybersex doll (Kelly LeBrock) and impress the girls at school with their apparent sexual prowess. You know, just a universal coming-of-age story. Do we have space to talk about the weird racial politics in this film and, in fact, in all of Hughes films? Lets save that for another day. After all, there are only so many times you can stab a sacred cow.

2 Overboard

Overboard
Overboard Photograph: Allstar/MGM

The ultimate example of a story idea that should have been made as a horror film but was somehow instead written up as a romantic comedy. A handyman (Kurt Russell) lies to a woman with amnesia (Goldie Hawn) and tells her she is his wife just so she will clean his house, look after his kids and, ultimately, have sex with him. Does she run in the opposite direction when she finds out the truth? SPOILER! She does not. Russell and Hawn famously have one of the stablest relationships in Hollywood, so you have to wonder how they looked at this script and thought, Yup, that seems normal sign us up!

3 Working Girl

Working
Working Girl. Photograph: Allstar/20THCENTURY FOX

Yes, Tess (Melanie Griffith) is celebrated for being ambitious. Look, she swaps her trainers for heels under her desk! But she is also depicted as a kind of babyish sex doll, one who girlishly defers to her men (Alec Baldwin and then Harrison Ford) and talks in the voice of a child. She can only progress up the ladder not by fighting sexism, but by tearing down another woman, the pointedly very adult Katharine (Sigourney Weaver), who is mocked for worrying about her fertility, physically humiliated and finally banished. Working Girl was certainly not the only 80s film to be conflicted about feminism and full of contradictory messages to women, but the fact it is still celebrated as a feminist classic makes its weirdness all the weirder.

4 Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters. Photograph: Allstar/COLUMBIA

I love Ghostbusters, you love Ghostbusters, we all love Ghostbusters. But lets be honest, Venkman (Bill Murray) is a total creep. In his opening scene he is literally giving electric shocks to one of his male students just so he can try to sleep with a female student, and then he later barges into Danas (Sigourney Weaver) apartment when she specifically didnt want him to come over. Look, I didnt want to accept this either, and for a while I convinced myself that Venkman proves himself to be a good guy when he resists having sex with Dana even though she is possessed by the demon of a horny dog and begs him to do so. But if your bar for male goodness is not taking advantage of a woman who is actually a dog, your bar is probably too low.

5 Mannequin

Mannequin.
Mannequin. Photograph: Allstar/GLADDEN ENTERTAINMENT

There are some 80s films that havent lasted but really should have done: Crossing Delancey and Lucas, for example, are stone-cold classics that no one watches now when they absolutely should, ideally every day. And then there are films that have had a longevity that baffles even the most devoted 80s fans. Mannequin is one such film. Yes, Andrew McCarthys smile is so magical it should be a Unesco-protected tourist site, and yes, the film does get bonus points for the presence of Estelle Getty, AKA Dorothea from The Golden Girls. But that does not change the fact this is a romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with a plastic doll. The perfect woman, it turns out, is one who only comes to life when given permission to do so. At least 2007s Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling, admits the weirdness of this man-and-doll set-up. Mannequin, however, plays it purely for romance, and not even the always-welcome presence of Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now by Starship on the soundtrack changes the wrongness of this film.

6 Say Anything

Arguably the greatest teen film of all time and definitely the greatest John Cusack film ever (dont even try, High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank fans). I love this film so much I used a quote from it to open one of my books (The world is full of guys. Be a man. Dont be a guy.) And yet I also accept it can also be seen as exemplifying the long-established truth that films romanticise harassment and stalking. The film opens with Lloyd (Cusack) claiming he once went on a date with Diane (Ione Skye) because he sat near her while eating in the mall, which sounds, lets be frank, kinda stalkery. Later, Lloyd, freshly dumped, stands outside Dianes window and plays the song (In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel) to which he and she once had sex. This may well be the most aww/eww moment ever committed to celluloid, and it only falls on the aww side of the former thanks to Cusacks Cusackiness.

7 Big

Elizabeth
Elizabeth Perkins and Tom Hanks in Big.

The 80s were so full of bodyswap films they became a genre unto themselves: 18 Again!, Vice-Versa, Like Father Like Son, All of Me, Dream a Little Dream, and I am not ashamed to say I have seen them all, yes, even the one in which Judge Reinhold swaps bodies with Fred Savage. Twice. No, YOU had a wasted youth. Big is so superior to all those other bodyswap films its pretty much in a different universe, which is why you have seen it 17 times and had never before heard of Vice-Versa. But in one respect it falls victim to the genres cliche in having the child-in-the-body-of-a-man have sex with a grown woman who has no idea who she is actually sleeping with. And sure, Tom Hanks carries off the scene with sweet panache, staring dazedly at his girlfriend Susans (Elizabeth Perkins) bra, but it is still a 13-year-old having sex with a thirtysomething. Things reach peak weirdness when Susan drops him back off at his mothers and watches him turn back into a little boy. She smiles lovingly at his 13-year-old face, remarkably unbothered that she should now be arrested for paedophilia. Heartwarming!

8 Die Hard

Bruce
Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia in Die Hard. Photograph: Allstar/20TH CENTURY FOX

This may well be the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it is also part of a different genre we can call the 80s Anti-Feminism Movie. Its a pretty packed genre: there was Mr Mom (by, yes, John Hughes), which warned that women going out to work would destroy the nuclear family, and lets not even get started, please, on Fatal Attraction. Die Hard is subtler than both of those films, but it definitely fits in. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has come to LA from New York because his wife, Holly, dared to want to take a big job there, even though, as McClane stresses early on, this destroyed their marriage. He is disgusted when he arrives at her office to hear everyone call her by her maiden name, and her office is full of coked-up sleazeballs and terrorists, emphasising how wrong Hollys choice was. But dont worry, by the end of the film she is tamed and she insists, to her husbands delight, to be addressed as Mrs McClane. Thats right, Bruce. You keep the little woman in line.

9 Meatballs

Strictly speaking, this is a 70s film, as it came out in 1979, but given I saw it in the 80s Im including it. And when I saw it, when I was eight, I thought this was the funniest film anyone could ever and would ever make. Directed by Ivan Reitman, co-written by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray in his first starring film role, Meatballs, about a rather unorthodox summer camp, can be seen as the early comedy prototype for Ghostbusters, given how many crucial cast and crew members of the two films overlapped. And, like Ghostbusters, it has definite weirdness in it that you can overlook as a kid but will wince at as an adult. Murray plays Tripper, a very Murray-ish camp counsellor, who torments the kids, flirts with the women and is goofily aggressive to the woman he actually likes, Roxanne (Kate Lynch), a fellow counsellor. In one scene, he makes a move on Roxanne and by makes a move I mean chases her around his office while she tries to fight him off, pushes her to the ground and the whole scene is, to use the technical term, totally rapey. In short, the lesson of Murrays early comedies is, a man could get away with a lot of gross behaviour on screen, if he was Bill Murray

10 Revenge of the Nerds

Revenge
Revenge Of The Nerds. Photograph: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

These days nerds are seen as charming, rumpled, cool and even a bit sexy. Back in the 80s, they were generally depicted as voyeuristic sex pests, peering into the girls changing room through their taped-up glasses, and no film exemplified this more than Revenge of the Nerds. But in case you ever get asked in a pub quiz what was the rapiest film of the 1980s, this is the official answer.

Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman (Fourth Estate, 8.99). To order a copy for 6.99, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of 1.99.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/apr/13/80s-films-molly-ringwald-john-hughes-metoo

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