As I write this article, I’ve just popped in a DVD of Uncle Buck, the 1989 comedy from John Hughes starring John Candy as a hapless but loveable man tasked with watching his nieces and nephew while their parents are out of town. However, being only five minutes into the movie, one of the first things that struck me was just how much of a product Uncle Buck is of its time. There was a glorious era somewhere between 1980 and 1995 where you could take your kids to see a movie, and not find a watered-down, unrecognizably sanitized version of life that you can never imagine living in, or wanting to live in. There was something about the movies centered around the “family market” during those 15 years that made them so different than what passes for entertainment today, that watching one of those movies makes you feel a sort of nostalgia for them.
Now, things have changed quite a bit in the last 15 years or so, and I’m sure that’s partly responsible for the lack of family entertainment that appeals to both children and their parents. With the retirement of John Hughes, writer and director of Uncle Buck (as well as many of the better family movies of that era) in the early ’90s, in addition to a suddenly harsher MPAA, it feels like many filmmakers just stopped trying to please both audiences. But what is it that made those movies so special to begin with? Was it the realistic and relatable characters who never seemed to talk down to their target audience, often even going so far as sticking up for the downtrodden youth of America? Well, maybe that had something to do with it, but I think the main thing that made all these movies so great was, obviously, the incredible amount of dirty jokes and cursing.
When it comes to sex and swearing in family films, the age was never more golden than it was in the ’80s. Within the first 10 minutes of Uncle Buck, words like “shit”, “dick” are thrown around like nothing, and an entire conversation is held about the word “balls” by a then 8-year-old Macaulay Culkin, and that’s before the film moves on to several jokes about such varied subjects as teen pregnancy, sex toys, ritual killing, and John Candy having sex with a washing machine. Not only do I think this kind of explicit humor appeals to both adults and kids, but it doesn’t try to shield its younger audience from the stuff they’ll inevitably experience. If, for some reason, a topless woman can jump up and down on screen for the sake of comedy in Airplane, which was released with a “PG” rating in 1980, then I’ve got to wonder what exactly has changed so much that that would make it get an “R” today? I mean, Steven Spielberg even had Elliot use the phrase “penis breath” in E.T. almost 30 years ago, and you’re telling me that they had to censor the titular lyric of the prominently-used AC/DC song “Highway to Hell” in last year’s Megamind? Come on!
Jason Taylor is an independent filmmaker from Pennsylvania who has seen more than 2000 movies. You can read more of his writing at That Was Junk.