It may not be the funniest film that John Hughes crafted, but The Breakfast Club is the one that I think made the biggest impression on me. Revisiting it—so many years after its creation, as well as many since I last sat down to watch its entirety—gave me an interesting experience. How the three friends with me had never seen it is beyond me, but that fact caused something I never expected. Each moment of weight, those moments when the kids explain the pressures of each high school “social class” and why they are spending their Saturday in detention, still hit me as they did when I first watched it. However, my friends just laughed straight through, seeing the cheesiness and the way Andrew’s “buns-taping” incident played out in a homosexual-like nature, amongst other reasons. As a result, I began to wonder if the film only holds up to me because I had seen it when I was younger; it holds a place in my memory and heart. Maybe watching it for the first time today just can never have the same impact; it’s time capsule sensibilities just too much for the contemporary young adult to relate to. Either way, I could never discount its poignancy or subtle humor and I’m sure it will still be my favorite Hughes film when I’m fifty.
John Hughes is an enigma. The decade from 1980-1990 was as good as you can have in Hollywood for him. With films like Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and Vacation, this guy was the end all be all for comedy. After Home Alone, though, his golden touch disappeared and he’s never been able to rekindle that magic. It’s gotten so bad that he’s resorted to a penname, giving his writing credit for Drillbit Taylor to a fictional Edmond Dantes, (Dumas is rolling in his grave with that one). But those early films are classics. I completely understand my friends’ experience of The Breakfast Club, I could see those homoerotic connections and the idiocy of some lines and events, but I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at them. If they weren’t there, I might not have noticed at all, that is how high an affinity I have of the movie. Until someone points out the shortcomings, (if they even are, I mean this is almost 25 years old), I see it only as how it is. Emilio Estevez’s Andrew is pouring his heart out about the shame and embarrassment he caused a fellow classmate. I don’t believe any sexual innuendo was intended at all; we in the 21st century make it there because that is the culture we now live in. Movies today have moments like that for the joke whereas Hughes was just telling it as it happened.
What really wowed me upon watching again was how effective this film is with just dialogue. Besides a couple journeys outside in the halls or Dick Vernon’s escapades, the entire film takes place in the library, much of which includes the five stars sitting on the floor. When Estevez tells his story, it is made even more impressive by the fact that it was a single take. The camera moves horizontally as he speaks, allowing those in the foreground and desk legs to obstruct your view until the pan moves further. Yet he continues his monologue, voice breaking and tears streaking … it really is a powerful scene. This film was key for so many teenagers when it came out, teens that became parents and showed their children as well. Even just last year saw the documentary American Teen come out to critical acclaim and it was pretty much The Breakfast Club reality style. The film has entered society much more than just to be a pop culture tidbit—it’s a way of life. Every kid that goes to high school experiences the trauma and drama and messed up social structures created, every kid can see a little bit of themselves in one, if not all, of the group. Call them clichés, call them stereotypes—these five kids are you and I.
I think we should also acknowledge the accomplishment of Hughes with this film, more than others, and what it has done to Hollywood. Many of his successes came with buddy comedies or family oriented vacations, all of which had multiple environments and bigger budgets. However, The Breakfast Club was so much more with so much less. Without this film becoming a hit based on dialogue and character interaction, we may never have seen the likes of Kevin Smith’s Clerks, (a self-proclaimed fan who references Hughes often in his films), or the independent insurgence that was a result. This was one of the films that showed people a smartly told story that is relevant to its audience could be better than one in the moneymaking system. You could have young upstarts like the “Brat Pack” raking in the money. Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, and Molly Ringwald got their start here along with other 80s fare. You could argue that Judd Nelson’s peak was as John Bender, that scared criminally inclined kid acting out on the weak and naïve to have some semblance of power and worth, something all but absent in his home life. And my favorite, Ally Sheedy, shows that being an individual—being yourself—is all that matters. Everyone here caters to their friends and their clique except for her. She transcends it all and becomes an island to herself. By far the shining light of the film in what she represents, I am still almost hurt that she lets Ringwald “doll” her up at the end. She is so much cuter when disheveled.
I can’t not mention Paul Gleason’s stellar schoolteacher, who has seen the kids get cockier and himself more serious, or John Kapelos’ Carl, the “Man of the Year” turned janitor. They just go to show how well fleshed out every character is here. Sure they all embody those aspects we single out, distilled into one host for the purposes of showing us a projection of high school, but I don’t care. There is just something about The Breakfast Club that can never be changed in my eyes, no matter how much I understand new viewers’ trepidations on its quality. A nostalgia pick for sure, I’ll still recommend it to everyone I meet. If they can’t get past the datedness, it’s their loss.