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What if the characters in “The Breakfast Club” had a class reunion? Or “Sixteen Candles”? Or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”?
Sadly John Hughes, who directed these and several other teen comedy-dramas of the 1980s is no longer around to bring that idea to the screen. But University of Kentucky graduate Brad Riddell has created a variation on that theme for his new movie, “Later Days,” which opens Oct. 29 in several major cities and will be available on video on-demand services nationwide and iTunes.
While Riddell and co-director and writer Sandy Sternshein draw a lot of inspiration for their new film from Hughes’ iconic movies, they also drew on real life, which takes Riddell back to growing up in Erlanger, and a reunion with fellow members of the 1990 Lloyd Memorial High School Marching Juggernauts band – the band that was also the inspiration for Riddell’s first produced script, “American Pie Presents: Band Camp” (2005).
“I wouldn’t say overall it was a negative event,” Riddell said of the reunion. “It’s just that you walk in expecting people to be the same, and they’re not. Things have changed. And then, in some ways, they are the same, right? And I think that was really interesting for us to explore figuring out why do people go to these reunions, and what do they expect to happen when they get there? And what baggage do people still carry from high school? And how has that affected who they became in life?”
Sternshine’s story tracked a bit closer to the “Later Days” plot as he did throw his wife an ’80s prom-themed 40th birthday party that turned out not to be such a great idea.
Of course things didn’t always go great in Hughes films either – ask Molly Ringwald – and Riddell says the movie tries to project that vibe on its characters several decades after high school in the “coming-of-middle age comedy.” Fans will notice some homages to the Hughes classics in the film that, like most of Hughes’,was set in and filmed in Chicago, where Riddell lives and is a screenwriting professor at DePaul University.
A big feature of “Later Days” is an authentic ’80s soundtrack that Riddell credits to Music Supervisor JT Griffith, who was able to secure rights to a lot of songs you wouldn’t expect to hear in a low-budget independent movie.
“By all rights a film our size shouldn’t have this soundtrack,” Riddell says of the lineup including John Lennon, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, Run-D.M.C., Tears for Fears and more. “There’s a major part of the movie where ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ makes absolute sense. And we even wrote it in the script and then crossed our fingers.”
Riddell says he understands that some rights were granted for reasonable prices because people appreciated the intention of the movie as an homage to the era.
Looking back also sparks memories in Riddell of people who supported him as a student and young filmmaker, including Tom Thurman of KET, Arthur Rouse of The Media Collaboratory, and former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who Riddell made films for at his company Gray Construction.
“He is one of the reasons that I was able to start a career because he believed in me and said, ‘Hey, you need to go do more with this,’” Riddell says. “We’ve kept up, and he’s really kept tabs on ‘Later Days’ and has been a great mentor.”
In addition to his teaching work, including a class on Hughes, Riddell has other film projects in the works, including producing an adaptation of the Katrina Kittle novel “The Kindness of Strangers” with director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese.
But at the moment, his focus is launching “Later Days,” which he describes as, “a Friday night beer and pizza with your significant other comedy -- you know, like about 40 year olds doing dumb stuff.”
Some things never change.
Rich Copley is a former arts writer and editor for the Herald-Leader who continues to enjoy Lexington’s arts and culture.