Premise: In the vein of “The Breakfast Club,” A group of strangers wait all night in zero degree weather for concert tickets.
About: Written all the way back in 1996, this is one of the John Hughes’ projects that never got made. The movie was said to be close to production, then delayed because a movie with a similar premise, “Detroit Rock City,” went into production ahead of them. And we all know how good that movie turned out. :(
Writer: John Hughes
Let me just get something out of the way right quick. I think John Hughes is a genius. No one else in history has understood the world of teenagers and the outrageous planet they live on known as “High School” better than this man. When someone e-mailed me “Tickets” and recommended I review it in honor of Hughes, I thought it was a great idea. I’ve wanted to read Tickets for a long time. But just like all the scripts I want to read for fun, I threw it it on the “read for fun” pile and never saw it again. See that’s the trick, you have to disguise the fun as work to get to the fun. That and I realized that if someone had to die and I still wouldn’t read their script, what kind of person had I become?
Tickets starts out on a very chilly Chicago evening. For all of you spoiled sunburned desert crawlers who grew up in places like Las Vegas and San Diego, let me explain how cold it gets in Chicago. Because I was always a bit lazy, I’d wake up no earlier than 20 minutes before school, take a lightning-quick shower, burrow myself inside a couple of sweaters and a coat, then walk to school. But because my hair was still wet, I’d make it 2 blocks before every hair on my head was frozen solid. Like harder than steel solid. TWO BLOCKS! Yes, it’s that kind of cold in Chicago.
So when our six strangers decide to wait outside all night for tickets to their favorite band in the middle of winter, it’s more of a mission than a friendly gathering. First we have Tom, a 30 year-old who just wants to get through the night without being bothered. Then we have Leslie, who wears so many layers of clothing she could be mistaken for a sumo wrestler (she’s the “Ally Sheedy” character – if Ally Sheedy got into Barry Bonds’ medicine cabinet). Then there’s Asa and Omar, two 17 year old suburbanites who snuck downtown hoping to find some females. Of course no night would be complete without “Man in Refrigerator Box” who is a man…. in a refrigerator box. Trolling around the sidewalk, wreaking havoc wherever he could find it is Mr. 66, a homeless Vietnam vet who would grow a second mouth if you sewed his first one shut. Finally you have Max, the rich real estate developer who has recently bought up the very building they’re all waiting out in front of, with plans to gut it and convert it into a sleek new London-themed club.
The story is kinda hard to explain because…because there is no story. Leslie is a walking reality show before there were reality shows. Although we’re not sure if she’s homeless or not, one thing is clear: she had one hell of a fucked up upbringing. Asa and Omar thought the city would be teeming with girls but instead find themselves at the center of Mr. 66’s odd and increasingly cruel attacks. Tom desperately wants everyone to shut up so he can get some sleep, yet consistently finds himself as the only one capable of settling the numerous disputes that arise. When Asa and Omar decide to grill up some hot dogs, asshole developer Max sweeps in and insists that a city ordinance prohibits them from cooking on the street. The group momentarily bonds in order to battle the only person they can universally agree is more annoying than any of them.
Eventually, as the night gets colder and the characters more testy, smaller conflicts arise, pulling away and breaking up our group, leaving us wondering if anybody’s actually going to make it to the morning.
Tickets is a not-so-subtle commentary on class war. The dirt-poor Leslie beats the surbabanites up over their privileged little lives. Tom represents the 80s youth turned 90s apathetic adult, who makes just enough money to survive and not a penny more. And Max, of course, represents a sector of wealth so extreme, that nobody else in that line will ever achieve it, and uses this fact to belittle our characters whenever he gets a chance.
If there was ever a script more focused on the journey than the destination, it’s Tickets. Because the band and its significance to our characters seems to be of so little importance to Hughes, we often forget what they’re doing there in the first place. Hughes is such a master of dialogue that he can usually carry us through these seemingly directionless passages without us realizing that the story is nonexistent. But taking this route is kind’ve like riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Even if you’re Jesse James, there’s always a chance you’re going to fall down and hit your head. And unfortunately this is exactly what happens in Tickets, again and again. The dialogue simply isn’t as good as his previous films, leading us to focus on things we’ve never had to focus on before when watching a Hughes movie. This is the same reason why Tarantino can seem so great one second and so terrible the next.
Where does this leave us? Well, when people look back at The Breakfast Club, I don’t think they remember how dark it was. It was a dark movie with a lot of dark moments. Which is one of the reasons it was so successful. It’s as if someone finally gave teenagers a voice, something to point to to say, “That’s how it really is.” Tickets is even darker than The Breakfast Club. There are funny moments, for sure, but as the script goes on, they start losing altitude, sucked into the thick cumulus clouds below, leaving us with this stark cold distant look at our world.
In the end, it’s the characters who doom Tickets. They’re quirky and memorable for sure. But every single one of them is written to alienate us. Some are too elite. Some are too snobby. Some don’t care. Some are too cruel. Not only don’t they let each other into their lives. They don’t let us in either. And as we all know, if you take great characters out of a John Hughes movie, what do you have left?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Always look for memorable names. Writers don’t care enough about names but they’re a big deal, both to help identify the character and to make things easier on the reader. A good distinctive name will prevent a busy reader from having to go back and check, “Who was that again?” (note to writers: Readers *hate* this). So get it right the first time. Hughes names his homeless character Mr. 66. instead of, say, “Darrel Johnson.” That’s a “never have to go back and check” name if there ever was one.