This is a new type of post I’ll be doing as often as I can think of a good recommendation. Have Netflix but aren’t ready to commit to a full television show? Need a movie to throw on while you’re making dinner for yourself? Want a distraction from the voices in your head (Why, why do they come to me to die?!). Here are some suggestions from someone with too much time on his hands and too many opinions to keep to himself.
Written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) and starring Ed O’Neill (Married With Children, Modern Family) this movie holds a special place in my heart.
Essentially a road comedy about two strong willed, stubborn people from opposite ends of the social spectrum who find common ground and mutual respect by beating the hell out of each other emotionally and, in a few cases literally, on their way home for Thanksgiving dinner.
To be more specific, a smarter, confident version of Al Bundy attempts to bond with his girlfriends elitist wealthy-born son by forcing the two of them on a cross country drive during the holiday season. Add a healthy dose of O’Neill’s brilliant physical comedy and sad sack, craggily faced Everyman with The Worst Luck in the World persona to a script from Hughes, the man who mastered the world of heartfelt, funny emotional comedies in the 1980s and you end up with one of the more under appreciated and enjoyable flicks to ever be completely lambasted critically and financially that I have ever seen.
Hughes had a brilliant knack for combining disparate personalities and egos into situations where they are forced to breakdown each others prejudices, finding mutual respect and affection in ways that change their attitudes entirely by the end of the story. Breakfast Club is the obvious example, but the process in this particular movie deeply effected me personally. Steve Martin’s revelation about John Candy’s obnoxious, cloying character at the end of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles never fails to bring me to tears. Even in Home Alone, young Kevin finds his confidence in the council of the creepy old guy, regardless of what a bad message that sends. Hughes, as a writer, was enormously optimistic about people and their capacity for empathy, a sentimentality that he masterfully disguised with humor, sometimes slapstick, occasionally absurd, but never mean spirited.
I had a hard time bonding with my stepfather for a long time, we were mostly alien to each other about too many things to ever find common ground. But watching this movie together had a strongly cathartic effect, and although ultimately we never found enough common ground to maintain that feeling, I’ll never forget the sense I had that this movie approached the idea correctly. It’s a scary thing trying to be a father to someone else’s child. It’s a scarier thing to find a stranger taking care of your mother, the most important person in the world when you are a child. So what is the correct approach?
Dutch Dooley is a working class man with a wealth of life experience. Doyle is an entitled self involved child affecting the ignominious attitude of his rich father. When they meet in the middle they immediately conflict over their idea of values, both assume an attitude of arrogant superiority over the other. What makes this movie excellent and endearing is the simple fact that they are both completely wrong. If Dutch was simply correct about his belief that a man’s worth is tantamount to his hard work, the movie would be a persecution of the upper class, a soulless (and false) statement about social inequality. Instead, the young self assured Doyle, does learn and adapt. And his notions of what it is to be a good man change, rather than disappear. Instead of realizing he’s a terrible, entitled jerk he discovers the value of the opportunities that he has are only one part of the man he can be, as opposed to the boy that he is. Dutch, the weathered, experienced older man, recognizes this change in him for the quality that it is: nobility, and both are improved for the experience.
His approach to adopting this kid is the right one and he states it outright, further, he demonstrates it. He is not Doyle’s father and he never will be. But he can be his friend. First and foremost. And when it comes to a child from a broken home, when it comes from a child from a broken home, a good and honest friend can make all the difference in the world.