After going through the new Looking for Alaska series on Hulu (based on the novel by John Green), I thought about writing a review, but I don’t think its worth that. It kind of does what it says on the tin, minus some CW-level acting by some of the people in the cast.
Instead, I want to memorialize a discussion that was had in my house. The lens on teenagers from John Green vs the lens of John Hughes. Now, this is not necessarily an original concept, but like many things, I feel like what people have written about it before is a bit weak. So, I will give my dumbass stab at it.
Many focus on similarities or call Green a spiritual successor. I think that is wrongheaded. Yes, the body of their creative work is both focused on the same time period: late teenagers about to leave high school trying to figure out what they will do next. That period of uncertainty where your future seems like a fog that you have to travel through.
But they are most definitely not the same. They are each their own thing, and they approach the young adult years with a different perspective. I don’t actually think one is better than other, though I have my preferences (and they will show). I’ll highlight a few of those differences here.
1. John Green is way more precious to his characters
A John Green character has a ton to say and says it all with a fluency and dignity that no actual teenager has. Example: There is a scene in Looking for Alaska where a bully threatens to beat up a main character again. They exchange in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead style witty repartee, only to have the discussion shutdown by the main character being able to quote Millard Filmore’s last words, “The nourishment is palatable.”
A quaint little scene. Lets see how John Hughes handles bullies.
Now, this feels wayyyyyyyyyyyy more consistent to how I remember my teenage years working out.
2. The Parents in John Green books are either super supportive or just absent
It’s true. The parents in The Fault in Our Stars are super supportive. The parents in An Abundance of Catherines and Paper Towns aren’t really there. And for the rest of his word, they aren’t really about the parents. Its not something he is hugely interested in for whatever reason. Maybe its because he had really good parents or its just an experience he hasn’t dealt with.
Meanwhile, every parent (for the most part) in a John Hughes movie is shitty to one degree or another. Ferris’ parents let him get away with everything. The Breakfast Club is almost a bitch fest entirely about how their parents abuse them. And then there is this:
Cameron’s entire arc is completed by trashing his dad’s car. The thing his dad loves more than Cameron.
3. John Green is obsessed with guys who pine over girls.
Hell, John Green wrote a whole book about how dangerous it is to pine over an image of someone in your head:
Spoiler Alert: Turns out Margot has her own problems which don’t involve Quentin’s adoration. Margot basically uses Quentin to her ends, and then dips. Gone like a ghost. Quentin manages to find her, and she is totally surprised. She basically turns out to be a different person than the image Quentin has in his head. Margot fucks off to….I dunno, become addicted to Fentanyl and die? (This is my headcannon). And Quentin has to adjust for everything. And the book ends.
Maybe John Green had someone he felt that way about before. He sort of hints at it through the vlogbrothers channel. I have a feeling he was that type of guy….
On the other hand, John Hughes just pities those who pine after girls who have no interest in them. There is only really one example worth talking about. The duckman. He spends the whole movie trying to get Molly Ringwald’s attention. More of a nuisance to her (who has her own shit to deal with). Then, cut to the end of that movie:
Duckman is basically cast aside. He lets Molly Ringwald do what she needs to do for her. He gets tossed a new love interest regardless, because…I think John Hughes pities him. Its not his story. He is just the type of person that clings to girls like Molly Ringwald. John Green would have expounded on the Duckman’s life, and truthfully, we don’t need all that shit. You know who this is. Just someone stuck in a place in his life who needs to move on.
Overall, I think John Green has a bit of rose-colored glasses on being a young adult. Let me be clear. I still love the man’s books. I think he has a fantastic pen. I just think how John Hughes viewed that era makes more sense to me. Don’t get me wrong. John Hughes has his own issues with his work. But, its just the world that I understand.
And that doesn’t work for everyone. And THAT is TOTALLY FINE. The world is plenty big enough to have any style of interpretation to teenage years. We have plenty enough room for both John’s.