Mike Sacks Satirizes John Hughes With “Passable in Pink”

Mike Sacks is an author and comedy writer whose work has been published in The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, McSweeney’s, GQ and Esquire. He’s written eight books and put together two collections of interviews with comedy writers: 2010’s And Here’s The Kicker and 2014’s Poking a Dead Frog. He has recently shifted his talents to penning scripts for original comedic audio books, the most recent of which, Passable in Pink, is a satire of countless beloved 80s John Hughes-type films. Starring Gillian Jacobs, Adam Scott, Bob Odenkirk, Bobby Moynihan, Laraine Newman, Julie Klausner from Difficult People, and Judd Nelson as a pessimistic high school janitor, Passable In Pink is like if a “VHS copy of Sixteen Candles had spent the last 30 years warping inside of a hot car,” according to The Onion. Imagine if Doug Kenny (National Lampoon) had made Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Breakfast Club and you might just get a sense of the sharpness of this project’s satire, out now as an exclusive from Audible.

The Interrobang: Your newest work, Passable In Pink, is a skewering of the films of John Hughes. What gave you the idea to tackle his body of work?

Mike Sacks: I just loved them. I grew up with them. They meant a lot to me. My last audio project for Audible, Stinker Lets Loose, was a take off on 1970s trucking and CB movies. I wanted to move on to the 1980s and thought this would be ripe to satirize. I haven’t seen it done before, although I have seen a lot of Meatballs type comedies skewered, like in Wet Hot American Summer. I really liked that but wanted to try something a little different.  I loved John Hughes’ movies when I was a kid. Really and truly loved them; or most of them, anyway. Owned the posters, the scripts. Watched them all in the theater. I feel very nostalgic for them. And yet, at the same time, watching them now, it’s a bit puzzling as to what I liked so much.

I’ve shown a few of these movies to my 10-year-old daughter and she’s totally perplexed as to what I saw in them. I am, too, I guess. They haven’t aged particularly well. The characters are one dimensional. There are rape scenes. There’s a terrible Asian stereotype in 16 Candles that made me gasp when I saw it again. It’s like looking at something from a hundred years ago. In a sense, they’re as dated as the trucking and CB movies from the mid to late 70s.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that there were so few options available to use back then; so there was little pop culture for us. Fewer movies, TV shows, certainly no internet, no podcasts, none of that. It was all limited. Our choices were so few. It just all strikes me as bizarre now. There was just very little choice for anything.

“You can listen to Passable in Pink via Audible by clicking http://audible.com/pink

The Interrobang: While Passable in Pink draws from all of John Hughes’ work, Pretty In Pink and 16 Candles are the two films it feels most based upon. What drew you to them in particular?

Mike Sacks: I find these two the most bizarre. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is also in there. Now that’s a movie I’ve never liked at all. I disliked it when I first saw it in the theater and I dislike it now. I find Ferris to be a sociopath. Worse, he’s not funny or interesting. And I hate his naggy friend.

But I did like 16 Candles a lot when it first came out. I also loved Breakfast Club. And I thought Pretty in Pink was okay but I also found slightly bizarre. I couldn’t understand Duckie then, and I can’t now. No way would Molly’s character have fallen for this guy. I always just assumed he was supposed to be gay anyway—which, of course, would have been fantastic and way ahead of its time—but then the movie didn’t have the nerve to actually pull the trigger with that. Just “alternative.” Molly Ringwald has gone on record as saying that she feels that Jon Cryer was wrong for this role and that there was zero chemistry between them, and I’d have to agree.

But there’s so much more to Pretty in Pink that bugs me. I own the novelization, which is based on the original script. In the book, at the end, the Molly character hooks up with Duckie and tells Blane, the Richie played by Andrew McCarthy, to bugger off. In the movie, though, they switched up that plot point after receiving negative audience reaction. So Molly ends up with Blane at the big dance and poor Duckie is left alone on the dance floor. But a gorgeous woman arrives and shows an interest in Duckie. He then breaks the fourth wall, looks to the audience, and makes an eye motion, as if to say, Hey! Can you believe my luck?! All a bunch of bullshit. Not sure how that was a more pleasurable ending for anyone. It just reeks of bullshit.

The father in Pretty in Pink is strange, too. He’s played by Harry Dean Stanton. He’s alcoholic and seems to come from a different movie entirely. How did this loser end up in a teen film? Harry Dean doesn’t even appear cognizant that he’s in this movie. Did he know he was being filmed? I love what Bob Odenkirk brought to the father in Passable in Pink. He plays him perfectly. A combination of Harry Dean Stanton and the father in 16 Candles.

Now, with that said, what I find amazing in Pretty in Pink and even in Ferris Bueller, is the great alternative music. The soundtracks still sound amazing to me. It was music that teens actually listened to. It wasn’t music that fifty-somethings only thought teens listened to or wanted them to listen to.

The Interrobang: I feel Duckie was made to appeal to the quirky, “offbeat” guy who pines for the girl who doesn’t return his affections, yet I’ve never met a single person that fits that bill that remotely enjoys Duckie. How do you think he so badly missed the mark?

Mike Sacks: I’m not sure if it’s the writing or in the performance but I find the whole character grating and horrible. I mean, listen, I was no cool guy in high school, trust me. But Duckie is just so over-the-top and obnoxious and not based on anything based in reality. And again, he seemed gay to me back in 1984 and still seems gay. I really wished they had done something with that, which would have been way ahead of its time. I would have loved to have seen that. Something honest. But, okay, even if he was gay, or not gay, or whatever he was, he clearly loved Molly’s character and did his best to try to impress her. So, as a writer and director, just let him get Molly in the end, right? Why have him embarrassed at the dance by that rich fucker Blane? And why would he be “happy” for Molly and not completely devastated? Fuck her and fuck Blane. It’s a mean move by them both and it’s never sat right with me.

The Interrobang: You’re in your 40s. What did the films of John Hughes mean to you and your friends at the times of their release? Were they viewed as something separate and special from other teen movies at the time?

They were the best that we had. The other films, like License to Drive with the two Coreys, were pretty much the only other options. There were also terrible action movies out there, like Rambo and that shit, and overserious Boomer garbage, like The Big Chill, which I think is the devil’s work. Beyond that, there were John Hughes movies and Howard Ramis movies. But the John Hughes movies appealed to both girls and boys, which we loved because they were great date movies.

The Interrobang: This is the second time in the interview you’ve mentioned your belief that these movies won the hearts and minds of your generation almost by default, that film fare simply wasn’t being made for your age group. Just what the hell were you all watching at the theaters before John Hughes (and the Coreys)?

Mike Sacks: I’ll tell you what we were watching: adult movies. No one gave a shit when we went to R-rated movies. My parents didn’t give a shit. They took me to see Porky’s when it was playing in the theater. I saw Deer Hunter in the theater. I must have been five. I saw everything. Even the movies geared to kids, like The Bad News Bears, were more adult than children-oriented. Good luck getting that one made these days. You know what I loved and still do? The shitty Disney movies from the 70s, like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Cheap, strange movies that were bizarre and oddly entertaining. Freaky Friday is one of my favorites.

The Interrobang: What elements of John Hughes’ films did you feel were most ripe for satire?

Just how inappropriate it all is now, which is funny, since these movies were sorting of taking the piss out of teen movies back then. It’s hard to make fun of something that’s making fun of something else. I understand where John Hughes was coming from: this early-1970s to mid-1970s National Lampoon, slash-and-burn comedic sensibility.

If you read John Hughes’ stories from National Lampoon, they’re really inappropriate and really funny. I know where he was coming from comedically. But it’s a different world now and watching these 80s movies with a post-woke eye is interesting. I’m sure today’s teen movies will be looked at in wonder thirty years from now. I hope they will. They seem very earnest and not exactly true to life. There was a rawness to the movies of John Hughes that I love, even if they didn’t always work. He’d write a script and then refuse to rewrite it. That’s unheard of now. It’s almost punk. The movies just work. But looking at them now as an adult in my forties, and as the father of a ten-year-old girl, it’s kind of eye opening.

The Interrobang: What was your process for writing Passable?

Mike Sacks: Just trying to soak it all up as much as possible, that time from the 80s, and the sort of spit out a satirized, updated version. It’s tough to satirize something while still making it interesting and its own entity. There were a lot of characters. But I did like the freedom of writing characters who were sort of untethered to all these 2019 post-woke rules and such. We had more freedom, it seems, as teens did back in the 80s and early 90s. We were a lot more innocent while, at the same time, almost feral. I could just do whatever the hell I wanted. My parents knew nothing. And even if they did know, they didn’t care.

The Interrobang: What was the process for mentally taking yourself back to the 80s in order to write this script?

Mike Sacks: Just forcing myself to re-watch these movies for the first time in years. I also read all of the scripts, which is interesting. In the script to Breakfast Club, there’s a subplot that was cut entirely about a teacher who swims nude in the school’s pool. Such a remnant of 1970s teen movies: showing a teacher’s tits for no reason.

It was just a totally different time now. Watching these 80s films now, it occurred to me that the films are almost similar to 1950s films. “Will the Richie invite me to prom?” Try getting away with that these days, right? You’d be eaten alive. Totally different world as far as politics, too. Teens weren’t connected to what Reagan was doing and how he was affecting them and their families. Now even my daughter, who’s ten, will boo in her classroom when she hears Trump’s name.

The Interrobang: Which Breakfast Club character did you identify with most in your youth, and which do you identify with most in your 40s?

Mike Sacks: Probably the nerd or the Ally Sheedy character back then. Now, I most closely associate with the janitor who just wants to do his job and get the fuck back home. Or possibly the poor parents who have to wake up at dawn to drive their idiot kids to a weekend morning detention.

I remember how wise I thought the film when I was young. Now I find it to be a ton of whining and I just want them to shut up already. Sounds terrible but it’s true. Then again, if I were to have to listen to myself at that age, I’d just want myself to shut up, too.

I think the John Hughes movie that I love the most now is Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which I think is a holiday masterpiece. Just so realistic to sadness and to adulthood and all the rest of it. And funny as hell. Two very likable characters coming together out of chance and being forced to get through a few days together. It’s all very touching.

Would have been interesting to see what John Hughes might have come up with had he aged and the humor that would have arisen out of that reality. He was reclusive, but I wonder if he would have responded to the criticisms of his movies if he were still alive, especially the New Yorker article by Molly Ringwald. It would be interesting to see that.

The Interrobang: Do you now or did you ever want to be Ferris Bueller?

Mike Sacks: Fuck no. I hated him then, hate him now. He’s insane. And not half as interesting as he think he is. I always found the adventure he sets up in Chicago incredibly lame. A museum? The top of the Sears Tower? How boring is that? It’s such a suburban take on an “urban adventure.” The two who seem to have the best time are the parking garage attendants who steal the car and take it out for a hot ride. Now that looks fun. But going to a Cubs game and making funny hand movements to the batters? I don’t know. And if he stopped traffic during a parade like that in real life, he would have been shanked to death. Just so pleased with himself. With that said, I love Matthew Broderick. I feel very conflicted.

The Interrobang: You might be the only person in America that claims to hate Ferris Bueller and love Matthew Broderick. Big War Games fan?

Mike Sacks: I loved that movie. I remember watching it and thinking, Please god let me one day have a girlfriend as intelligent and beautiful as the character Ally Sheedy plays. That never worked out. But Broderick is amazing in that, as he is with everything else. He’s just a brilliant actor. Maybe he was too good as Ferris. He captured that ego a bit too well.

The Interrobang: Did you have a childhood crush on Molly Ringwald?

Mike Sacks: Oh, I did, yes. I thought she was beautiful. She’s still beautiful. She looked beautifully obtainable to me. Not a super model, just a friend whom you might have a crush on. But quite frankly she never seemed to have much personality in these movies. Wasn’t particularly funny or interesting. That’s why I liked the Ally Sheedy character in Breakfast Club and War Games. And as bad as the Long Duk character was and how inherently racist he was and still is, at least he’s out there living a life and having fun, not just in his room, moping on the phone.

Listen, with all that said, these movies meant a tremendous amount to me as a kid. For Passable in Pink, it was kind of a tough balance. I wanted to satirize what I thought was dated in these movies but I also wanted it to be a loving homage to these films that meant so much to me. It also had to stand alone as a film that could very well have existed back then.

I hope I did John Hughes justice. He was a big influence and I’m bummed about the fact that he died so young. He still had so much to do.


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John Papageorgiou is a comedy writer, and the host of the DC-area comedy radio show "Papa's Basement." Visit his website papasbasement.com.
John Papageorgiou
John Papageorgiou
John Papageorgiou is a comedy writer, and the host of the DC-area comedy radio show "Papa's Basement." Visit his website papasbasement.com.