John Hughes follow-up to Sixteen Candles is my favorite film of his, The Breakfast Club. Breakfast Club stands out above the rest of the Brat-Pack movies and amongst 80s comedies in general as being, above all else, a character study. Over the course of the movie we grow attached to these five kids, because we can all identify at some level with them and their issues.
Breakfast Club on a technical level is nothing spectacular. It’s not terrible, but don’t expect anything flashy. Then again, there really doesn’t need to be anything flashy. The atmosphere is well created and suits the movies more toned down story, even if there a few Hughes style goofy moments. The soundtrack and score are notable for the songs selected and their placement. Dramatic music is used when it should to, ironicly, add realism and fun ‘80s songs are used when they should. The theme “Don’t You (Forget about Me)” is especially appropriate to the themes and concepts in the movie and besides that, it’s just a flat out good song. These kids don’t want to be forgotten, not by the people around them, but by themselves as they enter life and that’s a very powerful and pertinent message.
Our five stars are all stereotypes, seemingly, and they are as such. Molly Ringwald is Claire, the popular Prom Queen. Anthony Michael Hall is Brian, a (big shocker) total nerd. Emilio Estevez is the wrestling jock Andrew. Judd Nelson is the roustabout Bender and Ally Sheedy plays the quiet outcast Allison. These stereotypes are gathered together in detention and as it very slowly passes for them and for the audience (props to Hughes for that pacing) we discover things about them that reveal that they are more then just clichés and have more in common then they think. The playful antics and revealing dialogue are mostly set in motion by Bender, whose chaotic rebellion against all around asshole Mr. Vernon is actually almost tragic to watch. Bender’s desperation to fight against a world that has treated him like shit forces him into uncomfortable situations with Mr. Vernon, who has the power of being an adult and isn’t afraid to use it. Mr. Vernon is like the worst case scenario for how to grow up, in complete disillusionment about his past and has a one-track mind on his goals and his future alone. Thanks to this, the other kids end up having little resistance to Bender’s games, especially when they start to trust each other more. And trust each other they do, having heart to heart talks about parents, social standing, and even economic class.
This is the crux of what make John Hughes movies special. They deal with issues we have all dealt with as teenagers. Whether you were one in the 80s, 90s, 00s, or now you can identify with at least one of the characters and all of the issues. We’ve all felt that rebellion against our parents, we’ve all seen or been part of that segregation in schools into clichés. Even economic class is something we’ve felt when somebody else gets that new tech and we don’t get to have it, or vice versa. As the characters in Breakfast Club discover these things about each other, so do we about ourselves. And it really makes you think. Think about what you’re parents were like as teens. Think about that jock that bullies you, that punk that you avoid, that weirdo you ignore. It’s universal to every generation and to a teenager of this and any time, these problems are equivalent to any issues an adult has. These things are our world and for an hour and a half, we have the equivalent of group therapy with these characters. While the other Hughes films touch on these issues, it’s this film that stops and dwells on them and that’s why I believe that The Breakfast Club will carry on for years as not just a snapshot of one generation, but a reflection of them all. It’s thanks to the excellent writing and the honest portrayal of the actors, bringing in what I’m sure are their own insecurities to their characters, that Hughes pulls it off.
However, not all of the film is somber reflection. The comedy works well when it’s on screen, particularly the witty dialogue that I commented on in Sixteen Candles. There are also almost set pieces of comedy that all serve to help the characters do what teens do best, let loose and forget their issues. It’s a funny movie, but it’s not as humorous as some of the other films, so don’t expect big laughs.
The Breakfast Club, while the pinnacle of Hughes work quality-wise, is not necessarily his most popular one, but it definitely deserves a watch if you haven’t. As stated perhaps too much before, it’s really a film that can be and should be seen by people over the age of 15. Its appealing characters and bits of comedy will draw in most, and even provide nostalgia for some. All in all, this is a film that makes me wish there was teen comedy character study for my generation, but alas when was the last time there was a teen comedy that was even close to good? (Mean Girls doesn’t count!)