Director David Fincher has famously called The Social Network “the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies.” With one neat phrase and tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Fincher managed to bait some Internet- and Facebook-fearing folks into seeing his movie. The debate over whether or not the movie will be successful can be summed up with this question: Will everyone on Facebook go see The Social Network? The answer, of course, is no.
Strangely, there isn’t any question about whether or not it’s a good movie. Fincher and Aaron Sorkin are both master craftsmen in their prime who have a body of work that displays an obsession with power and ethics. The movie’s going to be good. It’ll make a lot of money, get nominated for Academy Awards, the whole deal. What’s strange is that even though The Social Network is about the most common Internet denominator (overtaking Google now), the film itself has an air of elitism that will probably prevent it from being a genuine box office smash. And while it might be the Citizen Kane of something, it is that air of elitism that will prevent it from being anything like a John Hughes movie.
John Hughes movies are for the people. My favorite is this week’s classic movie: 1985’s The Breakfast Club.
Now, understand that I was 10 years old when this movie came out, so it didn’t really sink in until I was 14 or so. No idea where I saw it for the first time. I was homeschooled from first grade to sixth grade, and I didn’t really qualify for any of the categories in The Breakfast Club. The closest I came to was the basket case with a little bit of the brain and a sprinkling of the criminal. What I could identify with was what every other teenager could identify with: confusion over identity, rampant alienation, sexual frustration and a love/hate relationship with labels. Teenagers desperately want to discover who they are, but don’t’ want to be labeled. Which is what The Breakfast Club is all about.
All of John Hughes’ high school movies are about the problems we all have during adolescence. They’re open in that way. Even in the one Hughes movie with a character none of us could ever hope to be, Ferris Bueller, Hughes was smart enough to give us Cameron, the character we actually identified with. Bueller was Hughes’s version of the hero at the end of his path, that place we strive for but never quite reach.
American teenager may have been an invention of the ’50s, but it reaches its apotheosis in the movies of John Hughes, where we were given a pantheon, a language, a hero and a way to find freedom even in labels, which was the great gift of The Breakfast Club. It was about a bunch of teenagers discovering that they can use the labels foisted on them to bring personal power and foster community.
Near as I can tell, The Social Network’s a really well made movie about a bunch of rich, smart assholes stealing from each other. Citizen Kane? Maybe. John Hughes? They should be so lucky.