Don’t You (Forget About Me)

Don’t You (Forget About Me)

That’s the buoyant, hopeful alternative-rock anthem that opens and closes The Breakfast Club; that great John Hughes-scripted flick that took a representative from every walk of High School life, tossed ‘em in a closed room and got them talking. It says something that the Simple Minds tune still gets fairly significant airplay well-over 30 years since it topped US charts.

My son and I have a little ritual where most Fridays – once we retire home for the night – we’ll pick out a flick and just fall into it. My daughter used to partake as well BUT as soon as her brother started taking an interest in disaster  movies, she tapped out. Although truth be told, I have my own little cinematic tradition with her as she is always happy to accompany me to the theater to see things the way they were meant to be seen; in the dark, on the big screen, larger than life. It helps that they cotton to different genres and I pledge allegiance to none – usually finding something to like about any discipline – meaning if I were pressed to list my favorite movies of all time – you’d get a list chock full of Oscar winners, monster movies, chick flicks, kids stuff and everything in between. I just live to love the movies.

I am pleased to note that even though Aria took a little hiatus, my fair lady (of whom I’ve escorted to many a Disney Princess flick) is also my fellow comic book movie junkie. I’ll never forget the slight wound in her voice this past November when she inquired “You went to see Thor WITHOUT ME?!?!?” We remedied that by taking in a second screening on Thanksgiving Eve – and just this morning, she was arranging our schedule so we could see Black Panther as soon as it opens.

Colin – on the other hand – will have none of these superhero shenanigans, preferring to stick to things that he says could actually happen (or have in the past – hence our awesome IMAX-infused screening of Dunkirk last summer which thoroughly put us right in the middle of all that chaos.) On the other end of the scale, he grooves to things that are so far removed from reality, there isn’t a chance on Earth that they would play out the way Roland Emmerich & Michael Bay seem to think they will. If the world has ended, we’ve been there to see it all come crumbling down. And while there are pleasures to be found in some of these silly flicks – I swear, if I have to see The Rock jump through another skyscraper again, it will be too soon. Oh wait…

Colin is the type of viewer who likes to chase themes so first we worked through the world’s end ad nauseam – and then saw it come to the brink of it with a whole bunch of World War II movies (which fed my history junkie son’s interest in understanding every nuance of that conflict). I minored in History alongside my Journalism degree and I didn’t learn half-as-much in 4 years of collegiate study as I have from car rides to and from track practice with him. If you are looking for a college professor who will work for scale – have I got the guy for you!!!

Lately, we’ve spun around to real-world teen dramas. I think his interest was piqued when he realized my play (The Lost World) was starting production soon. He knows a little bit about the show and has always been interested in the fact that I cast teenagers to play flashback versions of my principal adult characters. The play lands in the PG-13 territory so the first time I produced it, I didn’t let he or his sister linger around rehearsals for fear of catching an errant F-Bomb. The play is not rife with this stuff but there are a handful of words sprinkled throughout that lend gravity to the situation (or properly punch up a joke) and there is definitely some thematic material that was way above their heads at the time.

Now that he is in High School and Aria is chasing on his heels – this thing should land right where they live – or where they are about to take residence. If anything, it’s nothing they haven’t heard on the bus (they grow up so fast in that lawless land). Also – I wrote this with quite a bit of real-life High School memory fueling my thoughts so the stuff I invented for the plot are not conclusions I came to at this advanced age. These were real-world concerns of mine during those days when I was young, gawky and awkward (gawkward?!?!?) and still trying to figure myself out. This play is 100% fiction but my thoughts, dreams and memories help flavor it.

So Colin is interested in seeing the show – and helping out however he can – although not to the point where he would be on stage, delivering lines. He was VERY CLEAR about that!!! With this upcoming play (we open in April) dominating some of his thoughts, he asked about seeing the two movies I told him might help ease him into High School this past Summer when we were hunting for something to watch. At the time (late August) I offered up two movies – tales of High School then and now – that speak honestly and don’t really blow the plot up to Hollywood disproportions. I thought these two films would be the perfect pitch he needed before wading in those waters.

The Breakfast Club and The Perks of Being a Wallflower should be essential text for all incoming High School freshman. Both films find a through line of universal truth that I really think could help kids make sense of themselves and simmer the bubbling cauldron of thoughts and emotions that are churning at such a pivotal age.

At the time I first offered them up, he had no interest – so it was another screening of San Andreas. Yay!!! Yeah, I place all the fault there. (Pun FIRMLY intended).

Two weeks ago, he and I had a great Guy’s Night Out – hunting down some amazing pizza at Antonio’s in Worcester and then returning home for a movie. That’s when he surprised me. Expecting him to lobby for World War Z or something else with bite, I was staggered when he brought things down to Earth with – “Can we watch one of those High School movies you told me about?” Hell yeah! Any time! Any place! So, I gave him a little synopsis of both and let him decide. He chose The Perks of Being a Wallflower first but made sure I knew The Breakfast Club would reconvene one week later.

There is a deep well of empathy that waters Wallflower and I think that because this personal story is told by someone who clearly walked those halls and sat with those early teen thoughts – that this drama feels so authentic. The movie was adapted from the book by its author, Stephen Chbosky. An author writing and directing his own screenplay is rare and given how tricky adaptation is; I think it’s amazing that Chbosky is able to keep the heart of his story pumping while reconfiguring some elements from the book to fit the visual medium. It helps that the film is expertly cast. Emma Watson is lovely and radiant, Ezra Miller emerges a born star and Logan Lerman inhabits his character’s sensitive skin with heartbreaking tenderness. The story follows the freshman year in the life of a quiet, sensitive soul as he navigates the class system of High School and befriends two outgoing, older “wallflowers”. It’s under their nurturing care that he blossoms.  I loved this film the moment I saw it and as a guy who is as in touch with his former self as he is the doting Dad you see before you now – I can honestly say that the 16-year-old Ed (or Eddie – as way too many people knew me by way back when) would have been head-over-heels in love with this movie. I was happy to share this with my son and I think it landed so well on my boy’s life.

A week later, we made good on the promise to check in on The Breakfast Club; chasing our Father/Son Dinner & A Movie Date with a screening. Although I feel like I’ve lived with that movie my entire life – it wasn’t until 4 years ago when I was prepping production on my original play (The Lost World) that it suddenly dawned on me I had never actually seen the movie in its entirety. My play – about six people who claim to have HATED High School the most and end up as the only six people to attend their High School reunion – was inspired by my own 20-year High School reunion where I gazed upon a full crowd of former classmates and was struck by the increase in size and scale from our 10-year reunion where nobody came. I did the math and deduced that at the 10 year, some wounds were still too fresh – while at the 20-year, everyone is looking for any excuse to get out of the house. “ISIS Recruitment Convention, you say. Where do I RSVP?”

When I wrote the play, I did so utterly sure that I had seen the movie as so many of the details were wedded to my memory. I know the thought of throwing six High School students in the same room – each cast off from different cliques – and then stripping away the outside world so they could get to know each other a little better was such a genius idea that John Hughes had. It’s so good that they would never make that same movie now. There’s no action in it. It’s just a lot of straight, honest chit-chat among strangers who slowly but surely grow a little closer; even if those bonds aren’t likely to hold come Monday.

It’s a timeless thought though and that merged with my feelings about the great decade I grew up in. A child of the 1980s – I came into my own in that age where we spied the slick tendrils of high technology making tentative inroads into our daily lives yet we still went out and played in the neighborhood and surrounding woods from early morning light until the fireflies glowed at night. I loved life back then but I thrill to it now. I see the good and bad in both eras. I love my good memories but I hold tight to the fact that it’s dangerous to sink too deeply into the well of nostalgia. It’s so much better to be moving forward in this life than falling backward.

So, I wanted to do something with all of those thoughts and tie them together with something that would bind. Then it hit me. I’ve known lots of people in every phase of my life. When I was in High School I never fit into any one box. I didn’t have a clique, I just sort of buzzed them all. I was always paying attention and feeling this great swell of empathy in me – a gift handed down by my Mom and Dad who truly went to town bringing their kids up right. I listened and the things I heard found their way into my subconscious. I have a photographic memory for so many moments in my life. I may not be able to recall day & date but every other detail of so many incidents and experiences is neatly stored in this great neural filing cabinet. So, I had a lot of real world anecdotes to draw inspiration from when sketching together my own story about six different people brought together by mysterious means. While my tale is completely original, there is no doubt that it never exists without my experiences and that movie connecting the dots just right in my mind. It’s always about right time and place.

Watching the movie with Colin last week, I realized it’s only the second time I’ve seen it straight through and both screenings have only come in the last 4 years. As I said, after I wrote The Lost World in 2012, it dawned on me that I never did sit down and watch The Breakfast Club all the way through so I quickly remedied that. (See – I told you I like technology. I hit up Netflix and two hours later – voila – I was all caught up). But prior to that viewing, I had never seen the movie straight through. Not in one sitting.

The Breakfast Club was released in 1985 and hit HBO just around the time my quaint little corner of southeastern Massachusetts was infiltrated by cable. It was Rated R and my family came down hard on the rating system until we were “of age”, so this was off-limits. But unbeknownst to my Mom and Dad, I could easily survive on a mere 5 hours of sleep each night – meaning many mornings, I would rise and shine bright and early, quietly fill a bowl with Cheerios and sneak peeks at the forbidden fruit of pre-dawn pay cable.

One such morning, I sat spellbound by the ending to The Breakfast Club. Yes, those Hollywood “teens” looked old enough to be my Dad BUT there was an authenticity to the way they spoke. John Hughes could turn a clever phrase but at his heart, he knew the fears, anxieties and hidden desires that all teens covet. Simply put – he spoke our language. That movie (or the parts of it that I saw) hit me square – right time and place. I felt it in my bones. A shy, awkward kid – I yearned for the same happenstance connection. Sure, it’s just a movie but hey, that’s what they do – they let us dream. Although to this day, I still don’t know what a “neo-maxied zoom dweebie” is. I suspect Hughes didn’t either.

25 years later – with a lot more self-confidence – I found myself in the middle of that 20-Year High School Reunion; marveling at the sheer numbers of old friends (and fellow alumni) that had turned out. As I mentioned, that huge reception stood in stark contrast to the middling returns we had for the 10-Year. Suffice to say, I had the time of my life that night but still, something gnawed at me.

Why did they all come back now? What had changed in the last 10 years?

Well, for starters – nobody can hide. Not anymore. Not in the age of Facebook.

But there’s something else… something a little more subtle that worked its magic.

It doesn’t matter whether you attended High School in the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties or now. Those 4 measly years hit at the most pivotal, precious time in our young lives. They leave their mark.

I see that in my son as he is just beginning his High School career – learning the ins and outs and discovering so much of who he is – and in the process – finding himself and his people. These two movies made an impression in the last few weeks; leaping beyond the screen into that fertile landscape of the self-conscience – where who we are is constantly coming together; adapting and strengthening with the times.

Those four years hold such power – such precious, potent memory is forged in four swift years. Just as Hughes did with The Breakfast Club and Chbosky intended with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I wrote The Lost World for everyone who ever walked those hallowed halls. For every single person who ever looked across the aisle at a fellow classmate – be they friend or foe – and felt a stirring inside.

A whisper or a shout commanding something so simple and yet so vital…

Don’t You (Forget About Me)