John Hughes’ filmography is crammed with classics, but one film continues to fly under the radar: here’s the story of Reach The Rock.
This article contains spoilers for Reach The Rock
The screenplays of John Hughes remain some of the most successful and most enduring of the 1980s and early 1990s: not only in terms of box office but in terms of endurance. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Home Alone, for example, are some of the most beloved comedies of that era, rewatched year after year. Hughes always tended to write for a specific audience, his run of 1980s teen films in particular defining such cinema at the time.
But the 1990s saw a decline, if not in popularity, then certainly in creative endeavour. High budget family films were becoming his niche, going through the likes of Baby’s Day Out, Flubber and Miracle On 34th Street. The quiet, contemplative comedy dramas with which he made his name seemed to be a thing of the past, and while there is merit to his family fare, it’s the smaller, character driven dramas of the 80s where his authorial voice can be heard loudest.
It’s quite a surprise, then, that his final foray into the genre is almost completely forgotten.
It was called Reach The Rock, and it arrived in 1998. A new Hughes script usually brought fanfare and a good deal of publicity. In fact, arguably Hughes is one of the few screenwriters whose name on a project will be more recognizable than the director. However, this particular movie seemed to come and go without a trace.
Search for it online and you’ll find an IMDB page and a few reviews but, except for a VHS release which is now extremely rare, it is extraordinarily difficult to see the film.
And yet the trailer for the film, below these words, wasn’t shy about playing the John Hughes card, nor bringing in the names of his previous movies…
The script had been around for years before it was made. Hughes actually offered it to Chris Columbus at the same time as Home Alone. In what was the canniest move of his career, Columbus chose the latter, scoring the biggest hit of his career (until Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone in 2001).
Hughes’ son, who owned a record label, provided the inspiration for an eclectic range of Chicago bands for the soundtrack. In a 1997 interview to promote the film, Hughes said that “my son had been listening to a lot of Chicago music — Tortoise, Shellac, the Sea and Cake — and I wrote the script to that music”. “I’m from Chicago, I live in Chicago and I wanted very much for the music in Chicago to succeed. It made sense to me to use local music, and I wanted a lot of instrumental music, but it’s hard to find instrumental music for films that has any integrity.”
Instead of directing the film himself, Hughes handed the reins to his long term assistant, William Ryan, who worked alongside him from Home Alone onwards.
The film chronicles an eventful evening in the life of aimless drifter Robin, played by Alessandro Nivola. Arrested after breaking a storefront window, he is placed into the custody of William Sadler’s police chief Quinn. What follows is essentially a character study as, each confined to the police station and trapped in their own way, all they can do is talk.
In that respect, the film draws many parallels with Hughes’ own crowning glory The Breakfast Club. In fact, central character Robin could easily be seen as a grown up John Bender, with a similar attitude and sense of humour. Thematically, they are also similar films, characters rebelling against authority, trying to claim their place in a world that doesn’t seem to want them.
The title refers to the incident that provides the emotional spine of the film. As teenagers, Robin’s friend makes a drunken bet that he can swim out to a rock protruding from the centre of a river. Begging him not to do it, the friend does so anyway but getting into difficulty, ultimately drowning. The trauma from this informs everything Robin does, from getting himself arrested to antagonizing Chief Quinn (who, it later transpires, is the uncle of the friend who drowned, adding an extra layer of tragedy to their conflict).
The subplot is arguably closer to Hughes screwball comedy sensibilities, as the deputy sheriff’s attempts to be with his girlfriend and continually thwarted at the last minute. Hughes always liked to have fun with authority figures, poking holes in their armour. Parallels can be drawn to the principal’s obsessive quest to get Ferris in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the vice principals attempts to outwit the teenagers in The Breakfast Club.
Reach The Rock is the last film that Hughes had complete authorial control over, and as such it is an important milestone. Just one further film is credited to him, 2001’s Just Visiting. An American remake of the 1993 French film The Visitors, on which he is credited as co-writer with Christian Clavier, the film was a box office bomb. He has story credits for both 2002’s Maid In Manhattan and 2008’s Drillbit Taylor, although he was all but retired by the time the latter come out.
Which leaves Reach The Rock as a curio that might only be of interest to Hughes aficionados. But I’d still suggest the end product is a strong film that encompasses everything Hughes excelled at in his writing.
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