Investigation: Do All of John Hughes’ High School Movies Have Gay Characters?

Investigation: Do All of John Hughes’ High School Movies Have Gay Characters?

Jun 04, 2012

John Hughes and Molly Ringwald on set

In the ‘80s, Molly Ringwald was the teen dream – the ginger who embodied every facet of the high school experience. She played the poor outcast with a keen (and ‘80s-atrocious) fashion sense (Pretty in Pink), the invisible girl overlooked by everyone (Sixteen Candles), and the popular girl who didn’t need her hands to apply her lipstick (Breakfast Club). Ringwald quickly became a mega-star (and a gay icon to boot), and now she’s outing many of her Hughesian classmates.

Last week, asked about the “gay kid” archetype in her early films, and the actress replied: “John wrote a lot of gay characters, but it was something that we never talked about. I would say in just about every movie he did, he had a character that easily could have been gay.” Her theory is a bit of a twist from her ideas in 2010, when she was talking with the Advocate. Ringwald mused about the director’s political affiliations (he was a Republican) and wondered if John Hughes knew how many of his characters seemed so distinctly gay: “sometimes I wonder if John was even aware of that. I don’t know that he was.”

And just like her comments in 2010 set off a firm “no, no. no!” from John Cryer (she imagined that Duckie was out of the closet by now, and Cryer attempted to deny her theories with the help of George Lopez), the Two and a Half Men actor refuted her claims again. After she explained: “Duckie doesn’t know he’s gay. I think he loves Andie in the way that [my gay best friend] always loved me,” Cryer responded: “I respectfully disagree. I want to stand up for all the slightly effeminate dorks that are actually heterosexual. Just ‘cause the gaydar is going off, doesn’t mean your instruments aren’t faulty.” The discussion continued on Twitter, with Cryer and Blane (aka Andrew McCarthy) once again forming a love triangle for Andie’s affections.

One might knock Ringwald for changing her mind on Hughes’ motivations, but doesn’t she have a point? Though “faggot” seemed to be Hughes’ insult of choice through all of his high school films, there are no shortage of viewers who assume that many of Hughes’ characters are gay, and many who’d bet it all on that fact … especially when it comes to Cryer’s Duckie or Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful.

But Ringwald wasn’t merely talking about Duckie and Watts. She mused that every Hughes film has a character who could easily be gay, so we decided to fire up the TV to see for ourselves. We’re not certain whether she’s referring just to his high school oeuvre, or his entire roster ranging from Planes, Trains & Automobiles to Home Alone, so in the interests of brevity – and not subjecting ourselves to countless Culkin shenanigans – we decided to investigate the High School of Hughes and ponder just how likely Ringwald’s hypothesis is.

Sixteen Candles

Sixteen Candles

Premise: A poor teen girl, Samantha, discovers that her entire family forgot her birthday on the same day that she loses a note detailing her feelings for the school cutie, Jake Ryan. To make matters worse, she has a geek trying to get in her pants, or at least score a pair of her underwear, and a crazy, not-so-PC exchange student shadowing her.

Though Anthony Michael Hall pops up later in this list, Hughes seemed to go to great strides to make “The Geek” a macho, manly man desperately trapped in a geek body. The Geek is all about the conquest, and seems to be a skilled gigolo trapped in an inexperienced body as he manages to not only score the sexy, popular girl, but also impress her with his prowess.

If there is a gay character in Sixteen Candles, it’s likely Long Duk Dong. If you can look beyond the racist characterization for a minute, the wacky foreign exchange student seems to embody battling urges. He quickly attaches himself to a rather large and masculine tough woman bent on destruction, and later tackles Jake, shouting: “Ah, sexy girlfriend … Bonsai!” Jake hits the kid, because as he later explains to Long Duk Dong: “you grabbed my nuts.”

Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club

Premise: A popular girl, a jock, a bad boy, a geek, and a misfit serve detention one Saturday and realize that they’re not as different as they once believed they were.    

When the teens hit the library for detention, there are two alpha males, and Brian, the awkward geek once again played by Anthony Michael Hall. Brian is the nerd struggling for acceptance from his family and his school. He’s not happy with his life, and suicidal thoughts have led him to buy a gun, which lands him in detention. He failed the quintessentially male class, Shop, and boasts the classic cover story – the “girlfriend in Canada.” He quickly admits that he didn’t sleep with his Canadian girlfriend, so chances are, her existence is a fabrication as well. And unlike almost every other awkward Hughesian kid within and outside of the confines of The Breakfast Club, Brian doesn’t get a girlfriend (or boyfriend) in the end.

Weird Science

Weird Science

Premise: Two uber-dork best friends decide to build a simulated girlfriend. The next thing they know, their fantasy becomes a reality as Lisa descends, teaching the guys to find and appreciate their inner cool and stand up to the popular kids terrorizing them.

Yes, Gary and Wyatt make a wildly sexy Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) to be their personal love slave. But unlike Hall’s turn in Sixteen Candles, where the awkward, macho bravado was matched with a palpable desire to find a girl, Gary and Wyatt seem only marginally interested in Lisa, and much more interested in each other. When showering with Lisa, they wear their clothes; when kissing Lisa, they barely move and lack the giddy excitement one would expect from two guys who just created their dream being. They seem much more at ease in the bathroom with each other (while one is on the toilet) than they ever do with Lisa.

There’s also a lot of cross-dressing throughout the film. The teens wear “ceremonial” bras when creating Lisa, and Wyatt walks around in women’s panties without the slightest sense of awkwardness, feeling comfortable enough to walk right by his uber-macho army-school brother. The scenario might be played for laughs, but the camera loves it, slowly panning across Wyatt’s body in an easy, sexualized manner. Later, Lisa struts through the mall as “Pretty Woman” plays, and earns the eyes not only of every guy in the building, but also one girl dressed exactly like her retro-cool guy friends.

When Lisa ultimately shows pleasure that the guys were “straightened out,” one can’t help but notice the double entendre as the geeks score themselves sexy, popular girls away from dudes like Robert Downey Jr.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

Premise: Andie is a poor girl who catches the eye of the super-cute and super-rich Blane. As their worlds collide, she must decide between Blane and Duckie, her loyal and flamboyant best friend.

Ah, Duckie… How do we count the ways? He’s the stereotypical, effeminate best friend. Ringwald has a point when she describes Duckie’s interest in Andie as friendly adoration. Duckie worships Andie, her life, and her fashion sense. Though he audaciously propositions her over and over, they’re just words. He seems not to want her sexually, but rather, to actually be her. When he muses about his feelings for her, he puts on her hat – literally wearing her clothes as an extension of his love. Andie is an untouchable object he can admire without ever worrying that she’d pick him – the safe “crush.” Yes, the original ending had the two of them together, but as legend has it, no one (save Hughes himself) bought them as a couple.

And what straight man would look Andrew Dice Clay in the eye and call him “sexually potent”?

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Premise: A wildly popular ubergeek fools the entire town into thinking he’s sick so he can spend the day with his best friend and girlfriend. Or rather, as we’ve all come to realize, a figment of Cameron’s imagination creates the perfect day in an elaborate, Fight Clubesque adventure.

Within the Fight Club theory, there’s really no room for any of the leads to be gay. It’s a neat, Freudian trio of the Id (Ferris), the Ego (Sloane), and the Superego (Cameron), all wrapped up in a boy fantasizing about his perfect day with a perfect geek and his impossibly cool girlfriend. As Cameron says of Ferris: “There’s nothing he can’t handle. I can’t handle anything.”

Ignoring this theory, one might see an uptight, deeply closeted love Cameron holds for Ferris, a best friend he never feels comfortable with, though he deeply admires him. It is, however, too hard to resist the alternate theory. John Hughes might not have meant it in that way specifically, but it fits snugly in the idea of wish fulfillment. As Ringwald has often said of Hughes, the director was a teen at heart, with the ability to think and speak in a realistic, authentic manner. He made the geeks the king, and though he might not have meant for a Fight Club scenario, he is clearly Cameron, dreaming about the boy who would be king, Ferris Bueller.

Some Kind of Wonderful

Some Kind of Wonderful

Premise: A guy from the wrong side of the tracks wants to date a girl from his neighborhood, but she’s already dating the rich town jerk. He decides to prove his moral worth, while being wildly blind to the fact that his best friend, Watts, is madly into him.

If a Hughes fan isn’t theorizing about Duckie’s sexuality, they’re usually zeroing in on Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts. The butch drummer only uses her androgynous nickname and wears masculine clothes from the inside out. She hates to change in gym class, admiring Amanda’s feminine body while trying to cover up her flat chest, white undershirt, and puffy boxers. Watts is ready to kick Amanda’s ass if she hurts Keith, and fields comments from classmates who call her a lesbian. She thinks she’s pining for her best friend, but it seems just as likely that Keith will ultimately be her big, high school boyfriend before coming out because: “it must be a drag to be a slave to the male sex drive.”

Weighing the evidence, what do you think? Is Molly on to something, or are you on Team HeteroDuckie?

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