The Breakfast Club

Director: John Hughes

1985

“But in 1984 writer-director John Hughes revolutionized the teen genre with Sixteen Candles, and followed it a year later with The Breakfast Club, a movie credited with finally showing teens as they really speak and think.” (711, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) You’d think that a film that rarely leaves the setting of the school library would be boring but it really isn’t and that’s mostly down tot he beauty of Hughes writing. Of course it was expertly delivered by the extremely talented young cast. I guess part of what makes The Breakfast Club so special is that the core cast (for the most part) were close enough to their characters ages to still have their own teenage experiences fresh in their minds. Nelson is the eldest and it comes across through Bender, who feels much older than the other kids. Once again you get the mention of Shermer – this time Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois.

“Much imitated in numerous films and TV series, this ultimate teen movie has never been bettered – be it because of its perfect timing, sharp performances, or the 1980s time-capsule soundtrack, featuring that classic Simple Minds song (written for the film) “Don’t You Forget About Me”. (711) My favourite imitation comes from Dawson’s Creek (Kevin Williamson, 1998 – 2003) … one of my guilty pleasures … where they dedicated an entire episode tot he Saturday detention style that is now so iconic thanks to The Breakfast Club. I think the reason I like it is the little nod towards The Mighty Ducks series (1992, 1994, 1996) that starred both Joshua Jackson and of course Emilio Estevez. There are references in everything, even if you don’t necessarily realize it at the time. For instance watching the film again today I realized that Bender’s escape through the ceiling tiles is echoed in the School Hard episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon, 1998)

The song is synonymous with the film. I can’t hear it without thinking of the film and have to resist the urge to do the fist punch! There’s a sense of completion or continuity having the film both open and close with the same song and the monologue.  I love the simplicity of the opening sequence – the monologue spoken over a montage of classic school images, especially those highlighting the snap assumptions made about the main characters … the brain, the jock, the basket case, the princess and the criminal. And the quote from Bowie which situated it very much within the period.

The parents certainly are pretty much absent, we see them at drop off and pick up, and aside from the janitor and Mr Vernon adults are also conspicuously absent from the film. Mr Vernon (Paul Gleason) while meant to be the authority figure is the subject of ridicule. A power-hungry but ultimately impotent man who relishes the control he thinks he wields over the adolescents in his charge. The dynamic between him and Bender is brilliant and one of my favourite aspects of the film.

Everyone has their favourite and the one they relate to the most out of our five core characters. My favourite is most definitely Bender, the archetypal bad boy. He totally drives the narrative of the film with his antagonistic personality. And his costume is now so iconic, a grunge look years before it was made mega popular by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Judd Nelson will always be known for this role. You see a more vulnerable side to Bender when he’s removed from the rest of the group. There are cracks in the tough guy mask he wears on a daily basis – suddenly you remember that he is still a kid albeit one on the verge of adulthood.

The tension between Bender and Andrew as they battle for the title of alpha male is delicious. As is the sexual tension that radiates between Claire and Bender which actually forms a rather tender relationship albeit an unconventional one. I’d like to think that I’m like Ally Sheedy’s Allison – the weird girl in the corner creating things and yet in reality the person that I was most like in school would be Brian the brain. I wasn’t such a goody-goody geek and I didn’t belong to any academic clubs but I got pretty good grades without having to really try.

Vernon really is clueless especially during their escape from the confines of the library. They spend hours competing against one another, especially Bender and Andrew, before actually beginning to realize that while they all look different and belong to different social groups they actually have things in common. It’s at this point that their barriers come down and some unlikely relationships begin to form. In the process they unite to subtly chip away at Vernon’s authority – a great source of amusement. The moment when they all share their detention stories is a quiet, poignant moment with lots of tears and home truths but also from all that comes understanding and acceptance.

There are so many things that show off their different personalities especially when it comes to lunch. Claire has sushi (long before it hit the worldwide popularity it has today) showing her wealth, Bender typically has no lunch. Brian has a lovingly prepared, well-balanced and proper lunch while Allison has a typically bizarre lunch (Cap’n Crunch and sugar sandwich). And then there’s Andrew with enough food to feed all five of them, reflecting his athlete’s metabolism. It’s essentially a character study set within the context of high school and what better place to perform a character study then in a place where everyone has such fluid characters and personalities?

It may have been written in the 1980s and it is so very much a product of that time yet it has an enduring appeal to this day. It reminds us that everyone is going through the same type of things in high school and not to judge someone on how they look.  “No single film better epitomized the period, or has become more of a cult movie for teens, than The Breakfast Club, which not only made Hughes a name to watch […] but also brought together a skilled group of young actors (as did Francis Coppola’s The Outsiders two years before) that the media dubbed the “Brat Pack”. (711) The Breakfast Club is without a doubt my all time favourite John Hughes movie. I love everything about it! It’s one of those films where everything comes together and the result is genius.

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