Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.
The first time I watched ‘The Breakfast Club’ I wondered what all the fuss was about. The second time I started to get it and by this time, my third watch, I now fully understand why the film is so highly regarded. From a simple premise, John Hughes, that master of American 80s teen cinema, has delivered a thoughtful and insightful film about growing up and transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Through the lens of five stock characters, ‘The Breakfast Club’ explores how young adults can often judge each other on perception and stereotypes without considering what’s going on inside. The setup is ‘The Breakfast Club’ itself, a version of detention held on a Saturday morning. The five characters are tasked by the school principal with sitting still and remaining quiet for the next nine hours, during which time they must write an essay describing ‘who you think they are’. Of course, being teenagers, this is a lot easier said than done.
‘The Breakfast Club’ is successful because of its intelligent script that serves to illuminate more about these characters, all from different backgrounds and social cliques, through dialogue that draws out more details about each of their lives and what makes them tick. It’s common in school (and in many cases afterwards) to see people through the prism of social status or perception and to categorise people into groups or segments without considering why each individual is who they are and why they behave the way they do. By taking five people who are vastly different on the surface and chipping away at their exterior, John Hughes really gets to the heart of their thoughts, hopes and insecurities and as his characters learn more about each other, they learn more about themselves as well.
The core cast was made up of five members of the so-called ‘Brat Pack’, a group of young actors who featured in a series of 80s teen films, with the main adult support provided by Paul Gleason as the gruff principal Richard Vernon. Hughes script also poses that Vernon, like many adults, doesn’t understand the teenagers at his school, and his assignment to write about ‘who they think they are’ is an ignorant and ill judged request. It’s much easier to view someone as you perceive them than to take the time to truly understand them, and this is as relevant for adults as it is for teenagers. Out of the ‘Brat Pack’ cast, only Ally Sheedy’s performance is weak and she lacks the nuance to portray her character’s slight weirdness effectively. Judd Nelson is the standout as the film’s funniest and most enjoyable character but the subtle work from Anthony Michael Hall doesn’t go unnoticed and leads to arguably the strongest realisation in the film.
John Hughes really got this generation and it reflects in his writing which is full of wit and insight, although there are some aspects that jar a little. The ending is a little too convenient to wrap up the story and doesn’t feel like a natural progression within the time confines of the movie, although it works on a thematic level, and the film does contain arguably the most unrealistic depiction of drug use on screen! He gets much more right than he gets wrong though, and the film is frequently insightful, often funny and has a terrific 80s soundtrack, led of course by the brilliant ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by ‘Simple Minds’ (my karaoke tune for anyone interested!). It’s also a rare teen movie that is a lot more dialogue focused and character based than action and event orientated.
Ultimately why I believe ‘The Breakfast Club’ was so successful and is so revered is because it effectively delivers on its themes and it has a lot of interesting things to say about these characters and by extension, their generation. And like many of the best films, the viewing experience is richer and shows more depth with multiple viewings.
Directed By: John Hughes
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason and John Kapelos