Wednesday, September 5, 2012

#751. The Breakfast Club (1985)

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 '80s 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 youth than writer/director John Hughes, the man behind such classics as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink

In his 1985 film The Breakfast Club, Hughes brought his unique insight to the story of five high-school students ordered 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 uptight principle, Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), locks the five in the school’s library and tells them to write a 1,000-word essay on who they think they are. What the teens discover during their day-long incarceration, however, is that they’re not as different from one another as they 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”). 

The film's drama comes into play when these stereotypes are stripped away, revealing - in a very convincing manner - that the teens all share the same problems. In one of The Breakfast Club’s most poignant moments, Brian confesses that he contemplated suicide because he received a failing grade on his shop class project. This immediately brings to mind an earlier scene, when Brian's mother (Mercedes Hall) was 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” Brian 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 while his peers may not suffer the same scrutiny when it comes to their grades, 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 they hear Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me)) 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 understand. 

The stereotypes may have evolved over the years, but the fears and uncertainties that 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.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I was 10 when this movie was released, and about 12 when I watched it for the first time (It was a favorite movie of the girl I had a crush on at the time). I remember liking the movie, but didn't get the "hype"...
Watched it again in my late high school/early college years and enjoyed the movie much more.
I'm 41 now, and saw a few scenes a month or two ago. I think it's worth watching this from a parents perspective now that my oldest is the same age as I was when the movie was released.

BTW - I'm very much enjoying your "2500 Movies Challenge" write-ups. In between work activities, I've gotten through 15 or so today...