Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't You Forget About Me [movie review]

* Released on DVD in November 2009; also playing on TMN in Canada
Director/writer/producer John Hughes was one of the most successful filmmakers of the 80's and 90's before he grew tired of the Hollywood treadmill and basically dropped out of sight, granting very few interviews. His first four films as a director were (in order): Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Planes, Trains And Automobiles. Not a bad start. He directed eight films in total (all of which he wrote and produced), but his first love was writing - he put up with the headaches and pressure of a director only as a means to protect his written work. Pretty In Pink, as well as the Vacation and Home Alone movies were also all scripted by him. His most recent Hollywood work consists of old scripts he wrote under a pseudonym (Edmond Dantรจs), which were made into two bad films: 2002's Maid In Manhattan and 2008's Drillbit Taylor. Prior to that, the last two projects in which he was actively involved was as a producer on a little-seen 2001 drama called New Port South and as a writer-producer for a 1998 movie called Reach The Rock, which played in only three theatres and made less than $5,000 at the box office.
Don't You Forget About Me is a documentary that serves as a tribute to Hughes' work and also seeks to find out what happened to the man. We're introduced to the young Toronto filmmakers behind the film (director Matt Austin Sadowski, co-producer Lenny Panzer, producer Michael Facciolo, and producer Kari Holland) as they board a van for a Toronto to Chicago trip, Chicago being where Hughes lives and did much of his filming. Their hope is to get an interview with the reclusive filmmaking icon, which they realize is a highly unlikely goal, but one which they need to attempt. The trip is used as a framing device for the movie, structured around clips from Hughes' movies, interviews with directors (including Kevin Smith and Jason Reitman), film critics, testimonials from a younger generation about how his films have endured, and former Hughes co-workers and actors. Actors Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Alan Ruck, Ally Sheedy, and Kelly Lebrock all offer their insight on working with Hughes, with Nelson sharing a touching message for his former director: "I miss you very much. I'm tired of talking to you in my mind, I would like to talk to you in person". The film was completed when news came last August that Hughes had passed away from a heart attack.
The filmmakers drop the ball in a number of areas, rendering what should have been a movie dealing with a compelling topic into one that ultimately bores. First, they include far too much of themselves in it, which might have been a good idea if any of them were worthy of significant screen time - they are not. Facciolo, in particular, is extremely annoying. Secondly, they spend an inordinate amount of time showing clips from Hughes' films. Granted, examples of his work are essential for their movie, but not to the degree they use them here. Thirdly, there's way too many scenes with teenagers extolling the virtues of Hughes' movies and how they speak to their generation more than today's movies do. I must admit, I was initially quite fascinated that his work had resonated so much with today's youth. That feeling soon turned to boredom as yet another group of kids appears on screen, repeating the same sentiments we've already heard several times already. Finally, the outcome of the interview-seeking trip is so completely obvious early on (so obvious that my referring to it won't spoil anything) that what was supposed to inject the film with an element of intrigue and suspense instead just makes the filmmakers seem naive and a little desperate. As I mentioned, they had to try and make some contact with Hughes - they just made a bad decision to devote so much of the movie to what was obviously a fruitless task.
Don't You Forget About Me also feels somewhat amateurish. For example, a no-name online film critic is shown talking, with no caption explaining who he is. I counted a couple of times when interesting anecdotes by one of the interviewees was interrupted by yet another film clip, which only served to disrupt the flow of the film. And the movie poster (as you can see) is atrocious, possibly one of the worst I've ever seen. I was also amazed when I saw this move was only 74 minutes long - it felt much, much longer.
I personally don't subscribe to the theory that the man was the genius many (including literally everyone in this movie) make him out to be, that he "best captured the growing pains of adolescence", as one critic put it. This one is for diehard Hughes fans only.
Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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