I imagine that it's become fairly clear over the course of this retrospective that I don't necessarily have a great deal of affection for the films of John Hughes; certainly nothing like the "ZOMG he defined my adolescence!" love that his name tends to kick off in a lot of people. Which is certainly not the same thing as disliking his films: a couple of them are tediously overrated, but in the main I find them well made and typically worthy of discussion.

Until now. She's Having a Baby, the sixth of his eight movies as a director, is also the first one that actively irritated me from top to bottom. It continues his exploration of grown-up themes after spending so many years mining the experience of the American teenager for his drama, but where Planes, Trains & Automobiles was a sweet-hearted, potty-mouth comedy about two grown men coming to an understanding and appreciation of one another, She's Having a Baby is a very clear bid at Respectable Filmmaking, a domestic drama laced with comedy that doesn't abandon the young people of Hughes's best-known films, so much as it grows up along with them - and that had, after a fashion, been the general slope of Hughes's teen films anyway, if we stop and think about it. Sixteen Candles was a film about being somewhere in the middle of high school, and Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful kept creeping closer towards graduation (The Breakfast Club is a panoptic consideration of high school in all its guises, and Weird Science is an outlier in all possible ways). She's Having a Baby skips over college and starts up with its protagonists right as they're ready to become adults, joining Jefferson "Jake" Briggs (Kevin Bacon) and Kristy Bainbridge (Elizabeth McGovern) on the day of their wedding, and following for an indeterminate number of years until the birth of their first child.

In customary John Hughes fashion, that really is the whole plot right there: 106 minutes of five or maybe six years in the lives of two young people. There are, obviously, a lot of different ways one could go about fleshing that out, some of them brilliant and some of them incalculably boring. She's Having a Baby is neither of those. The path Hughes ends up taking, and it fits well in the overall context of his work, is to make the film a depiction of the mind of the married adult man who isn't ready for responsibility, but would rather still and always be a fun-loving goof-off. Jake narrates his whole story from a perspective near the end of it, and throughout the whole movie drifts into daydreams of how he wishes everything could be, or what he fears will happen, or what he imagines the subtext of other people's conversations to be - a level of structural creativity that is wildly ambitious for Hughes, who had not yet at that point dabbled in anything more aesthetically daring than having Ferris Bueller break the fourth wall. In perfect fairness, the craftsmanship of She's Having a Baby is absolutely stellar: our knowledge and perception of characters is yoked to Jake's POV with a tremendous degree of care and intelligent editing, giving the whole movie a slightly breathless edge, since we are never at any point absolutely certain if we're witnessing the truth, or his perspective on the truth; the daydreams represent a level of surrealism absolutely shocking in a filmmaker of such pronounced artistic simplicity (there's a post-coital dance number that I presume to have directly influenced (500) Days of Summer).

Such a god-damn pity that it's in service of this script! There is no better example in Hughes's directorial filmography of his dirty little "emperor has no clothes" secret: for all that he made a career out of celebrating the outcasts and the free spirits and the rebels - Allison in The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, Molly Ringwald's characters in Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink - the filmmaker was intrinsically conservative; small "C" conservative, I mean, irrespective of his political beliefs. The things that he favors above all else are, ultimately, being normal and fitting in and doing what's right by your family and your community. The entire theme of She's Having a Baby, as broadcast loud and clear in every single scene, is this: you have to get married, buy a house in the suburbs, raise kids, and do work that you find personally unfulfilling with a smile on your face in order to make sure your family is secure. Anything less is contemptuous. The possibility of not buying a single-family house on Chicago's North Shore is deviant to the point of not bringing it up, even after Hughes goes out of his way to mock the small-minded conformity of life in those places; and the idea that two young people might not want kids is even more infamous.

All of which doesn't necessarily equal bad movie - I am fond of bringing up the hysterically reactionary Meet Me in St. Louis as an example of a film that is both conservative and a stone-cold masterpiece - but so very little works in She's Having a Baby that it's easiest just to grouse on how petty and little-minded and pro-conformity it is. But the litany of problems goes on: Jake and Kristy are both faintly awful people, with Jake being a selfish, passive-aggressive little shit who knows at every step that he hates his life and seems to go on with it solely because he gets his rocks off by having things to complain about, while Kristy is a total cipher, given less than no internal life by Hughes, and poorly served by McGovern's soggy performance. We could defend this by pointing out that the whole movie comes from Jake's mind, and the further point is that he doesn't understand what she's thinking; but if, after five years of a marriage, a couple is so emotionally distant that the husband literally can't imagine his wife's inner life, that is a bad marriage. And that, by the way, is the other half of the film's message, even more odious than the first: if you have a lackluster, frustrated marriage marred by a chronic lack of intimacy and personal communication, having a baby will fix it. Which is, of course, the worst possible piece of advice. But, like living in an urban condo, divorce is simply not found in the She's Having a Baby worldview.

The next huge problem is simply dealt with, though it is crippling: the balance between drama and comedy is an absolute wreck. True drama was never Hughes's strong suit: he had to farm out Pretty in Pink to another director, while The Breakfast Club never quite nails its tonal shifts until the very end. She's Having a Baby is at heart a deadly serious look at how two married people fumble towards each other, and it is pierced throughout by ill-fitted, wacky moments better suited to the broad farce of Planes, Trains & Automobiles - which, incidentally, was in production at roughly the same time as our current subject, though they were released some time apart - and the yo-yoing from one mood to another keeps the film from ever developing an identity.

There are other minor annoyances - very few performances are any good, with Bacon looking like a deer in the headlights; only Alec Baldwin as Jake's unctuous best friend, in a smallish role (but they all are, besides the leads), acquits himself terribly well. There are even fewer compensations, of which the best by far (after Hughes's newfound directorial skills) is the soundtrack, very possibly the best one that the famously music-savvy filmmaker ever assembled: a cross-section of smart, sophisticated genres and thinking-man's pop, though the use of some of it is rather irritating. Kate Bush's original contribution, for example, is kind of great, but used to make the childbirth scene unbearably Dramatic and Intense.

Anyway, the film underperformed at the box office and stands out as an oddity in Hughes's career: it was his only sustained attempt at making a sober-minded grown-up dramedy, and it serves mainly to prove that his insight into adult people was not so sharp as his insight into teenagers. If Planes, Trains & Automobiles seemed however briefly to herald the arrival of a new day for Hughes, She's Having a Baby snuffed it out, and from a certain light, maybe we can suppose that the end of his active career began here.