People of a certain age will likely understand what I mean when I say that John Hughes’s movies were a touchstone for adolescents. I know that 16 Candles is definitely problematic now – I mean hunky Jake Ryan hands over his drunken girlfriend to the Geek – but back in 1984 it spoke our language.
Jason Diamond grew up in the Chicago suburbs made famous in many of Hughes’s films (Home Alone, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful to name but a few). His memoir Searching For John Hughes traces his childhood with deeply unhappy parents who eventually divorce and then, by the time he is a teenager, all but abandon him. (Just as well: they sound awful.) He literally couch surfs his way through high school until a kind teacher offers him a more permanent place to stay.
Diamond is an outlier for most of his adolescence. He’s not smart enough or athletic enough or good-looking enough; he doesn’t fit in anywhere or have any particular talents. He does love John Hughes movies, though. Molly Ringwald is the first girl Diamond ever loves “before [he] even liked girls, when they were still “gross” to [him].”
…watching Pretty in Pink made me feel good. It made me happy…and we’re led to believe everybody will live happily ever after.
Although I was familiar with the concept, this idea that you could one day be happy and have what you wanted, it seemed so foreign. It was usually the kind of thing I’d read about in fairy tales, something about some prince or princess, people I couldn’t really relate to; they were cartoons or made up stories. But here, right before my eyes, were these kids only a few years older than me, things turning out right for them after all, and they seemed real to me. As if I could be them some day.
After high school, Diamond moves to NYC. The only thing he wants to do, the only thing he’s good at, is writing. He decides that he’s going to write the definitive biography of his idol, John Hughes. It’s not that easy, of course, and the book we eventually get is less biography and more memoir about how Diamond muddles through his 20s, making lattes or waiting tables and selling the odd music review to pay the bills. I actually lived in New York when I was in my 20s, so in some respects I could relate to Diamond’s angst, but I have to say that his recollections of this time are relentlessly grim.
Although Hughes does play a role in the book – after all, Diamond tells everyone he is writing it – this is more a book about someone who is desperately lost trying to figure it out. That’s likely a story many people can relate to. The nods to Hughes and his movies will be meaningless to people who aren’t fans — that was the reason I bought the book — but even if you don’t even know who Hughes is, it’s likely you’ll find something to relate to in Diamond’s quest to grow up and make something of his life.