Directed By: John Hughes
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald
Tag line: "Five strangers with nothing in common, except each other"
Trivia: Director John Hughes insisted that the entire cast and crew eat their meals on location in the Maine North High School cafeteria
The 1980s saw a resurgence in both the quantity and quality of movies that focused on the teenage experience, and no one was a better spokesman for the decade’s teens than writer/director John Hughes, the man behind such classics as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. In The Breakfast Club, Hughes brings his unique insight to the story of five high-school students who have to spend an entire Saturday in detention. At first glance, the teens couldn’t be more different: there’s Andrew (Emelio Esteves), the athlete; Claire (Molly Ringwald), the spoiled rich girl; Allison (Ally Sheedy), the socially backward outcast; Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), the nerdy smart kid, and Bender (Judd Nelson), the rebellious juvenile delinquent. Their up-tight principle, Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), sequesters them in the school’s library for the day and assigns each of them to write a 1,000-word essay on who they think they are. What they discover during their day-long incarceration, however, is that they’re not nearly as different from one another as they first thought.
The Breakfast Club is a funny movie, with most of its humor a direct result of the stereotypes imposed on its five leads (Bender, the perennial wise-ass, describes Brian’s admission that he’s in the Physics club as “demented and sad”). Where the drama comes into play is when these stereotypes are stripped away, revealing, in a very convincing manner, that they all share the same problems. In one of the film’s most poignant moments, Brian confesses to contemplating suicide because he received a failing grade on a project for shop class, bringing to mind the earlier scene where his mother (Mercedes Hall) is dropping him off for detention. Along with chastising Brian for getting into trouble, she orders him to use the time to his advantage. “Mom, we’re not supposed to study” he timidly replies. “We just have to sit there and do nothing”. “Well, you figure out a way to study”, she shouts back, as if the tone of her voice had the power to alter school policy. Feeling the pressure to succeed, Brian couldn’t deal with failure, and though his peers may not be exposed to the same scrutiny when it comes to their schoolwork, they can certainly relate to the stress of living up to a parent’s expectations. In the same scene where Brian has the exchange with his mother, Andrew’s father (Ron Dead) warns his son that no college will give an athletic scholarship to a “discipline case”. The focus of each parent may be different, but the effect they have on their respective sons is not.
While undeniably a product of the ‘80s, from its soundtrack (who from this time period doesn’t think of Bender’s fist pump whenever Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) is playing) right down to its very style, The Breakfast Club remains timeless thanks to its honest portrayal of teen angst, something kids of any generation can surely understand. The stereotypes may have been redefined over the years, but the fears and uncertainties many young people face haven't, and that’s why movies like The Breakfast Club, intelligent, well-written films that don’t shy away from these issues, will always be vital.