The Breakfast Club (1985) review

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!)

Sixteen Candles (1984) Review

On the eve of her sister’s wedding, suburban teenager Samantha (Molly Ringwald) suffers silently as her family forgets her birthday. Even worse, some total dork (Anthony Michael Hall) keeps propositioning her with sophomoric innuendo when she really craves romantic attention from high-school hunk Jake (Michael Schoeffling).-Rotten Tomatoes

Sixteen Candles is the first in the series of films written and directed by John Hughes that left and continues to leave a permanent mark on pop culture. It’s one of the weaker entries, but it’s by no means a bad film. The writing, acting, directing, and humor are all strong, just not as strong as they could be, or compared to the follow-ups.

Molly Ringwald plays the lovelorn, slightly dorky teenager Samantha who, despite being an identifiable character, is not a fantasy fulfillment for the audience. She brings her persona to the role, and performs admirably, putting any modern day cliché (cough cough Bella) to shame. The rest of the characters are… ok. The acting is adequate, but a majority of the characters are stereotypes, at least to start with. As we get to know them we find that they are very much not cardboard cutouts, but sometimes the acting can’t support these role changes, particularly with Jake, the love interest. Another… almost awkward stereotype comes in the caricature of an Asian that is Duck. As the film progresses he becomes more human, but that doesn’t mean the first half of his scenes aren’t uncomfortable to sit through. The other notable Brat Pack role in this movie is Anthony Michael Hall as The Geek, a role he repeats and refines as his career goes on. His cocky but lovable character is a great example of part of this film’s appeal. We all knew people in school and our life like the people in this fictional school and fictional life. From the comic relief to the leads, we all knew these characters in some form, perhaps one that was perhaps less exaggerated. Except the chick from Poltergeist. No one is as awesome as her.

The film’s set in a two day span, a snapshot of a turning point in Samantha’s life. This form allows more emphasis to be put on characters and not narrative, and is quite familiar for those who are Kevin Smith fans. The film is the epitome of the 80s, from the clichés, to the clothes and settings, to the soundtrack, and to the pop culture references. Pop culture references are common in this movie, particularly auditory cues from various TV shows. This type of gag is probably best used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but it works ok here. That’s not all this movie has going for it though, with its witty dialogue being the best used and most effective of its humor. It’s only passably realistic, but it serves its purpose in that it makes you laugh.

The movie’s nostalgic feel, stereotypes, clichés, identifiable characters, loose narrative, and humor and swirl together to make this realistic, yet unrealistic, atmosphere. It feels like a movie, but it also to a lesser degree, feels like reality. You pass off the cartoony sound effects and Dragnet music because you’re charmed by this movie. Charmed by the world that Hughes creates. An everyman’s world where your teenage years come back to life, or go down an alternate path (depending on your age). It’s hard to describe for those who have never seen a Hughes movie before, but it’s unique and memorable above all else. Even wanna-be Hughes movies, like Better Off Dead, can’t pull off that blend of honesty and humor, and it’s really a credit to the strong writing and directing.

The ending of this movie feels… odd in that it’s a happily ever after ending. It’s more neatly wrapped together then other Hughes films, and for a newer generation that can be hard to accept. The honesty of the movie that transcends generations seems to stop at the ending for me and for my generation. This film’s subtle message of “It can get better” that’s really just created by having a happy ending is hard to accept for us because we are so used to harsh endings. Even if things turn out ok, there are still problems to be dealt with. That seems to be the burden of our generation. We have a hard time accepting that happy ending when we can flip on our computers and see that it’s all a lie. We have to have YouTube videos of celebrities reminding us that “It Gets Better” because we have such a hard time believing it. Unfortunately, our movies, TV shows, etc… are not giving us this message like they used to. In fact there really isn’t a teen movie that embodies this generation like Hughes did for the 80s or Empire Records and a few others did for the 90s. The closest we have is Perks of Being a Wallflower, but even that deals with issues too… shall we say mature, for the average teenager. No instead we are spoon-fed terrible horror and action movies, with the occasional comedy that’s actually intended for adults. It’s a sad state we live in, but hopefully one that will be alleviated in some upcoming cultural shift of tides.

Back to Sixteen Candles (oh yeah that was a thing), it’s a movie that’s worth watching. Worth buying. Worth watching over and over again. Worth showing to your kids and grand kids and so on. It’s a movie that every teen should watch and perhaps out of the handful of Hughes films, one that everyone should watch. The plot itself deals with a girl’s crush, so it may be boring to a male audience, but I highly doubt it. It has plenty of male conflict and lowest denominator humor to keep almost everyone satisfied. It’s a light comedy, not too raunchy, not too high brow, and is sure to appeal to the teenager inside (or outside) of you. It leaves you wanting more, and luckily there is. May the 80s live on!