They were five students with nothing in common, faced with spending a Saturday detention together in their high school library. At 7 a.m., they had nothing to say, but by 4 p.m. they had bared their souls to each other and become good friends. John Hughes creator of the critically acclaimed Sixteen Candles, wrote, directed and produced this hilarious and often touching comedy starring Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy. To the outside world they were simply the Jock, the Brain, the Criminal, the Princess and the Kook, but to each other, they would always be The Breakfast Club.
The Breakfast Club 8.25
Brian Johnson: “Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”
I didn’t grow up on ‘The Breakfast Club’; I saw this film many years after its release. And yet it managed to connect with me. It connected with the teenager in me who’s still reliving his tumultuous high school years and all the angst surrounding them. From my perspective, it’s pretty much impossible to not relate to its characters, even though I never really had detention (maybe once?) and am certainly not any of those people portrayed here.
But there is a little bit of each of them in most of us. And I think that’s what makes the film so easy to identify with. Yes, the dialogues are sometimes contrived, those young people don’t always say things that would be in keeping with their background and/or education, and it’s not a given that a single day would be so transformative. But it does speak of possibilities, human nature, and what most of us desire: to be understood and appreciated for who we are, not who we’re not.
I believe that this is the simple genius of ‘The Breakfast Club’. There’s not much to it, plot-wise, given the context, but it’s thought-provoking and filled with emotion in a way that is very rare for teen dramedies. It’s something that writer-driector John Hughes was marvelous at when he was at his best; he managed to tap into some very real moments, slices of adolescent life that North Americans (and perhaps others as well) can easily recognize and understand.
‘The Breakfast Club’ is mostly dialogue-based. It’s about the conversations taking place between five youths who have been locked together in a room for a day of detention, as well as a few exchanges with the teacher who is supervising the day. It’s the kind of film that likely wouldn’t be made for today’s teen audiences: one setting + very little action + lots of talking = box office poison. In fact, many Hollywood filmmakers have gone on record saying that such a film wouldn’t even be greenlit today.
It’s a film that’s entirely driven by its characters and its ability to reach out to the viewer. Personally, I can easily relate with three of them, the outcasts, and could see my 16-year-old self in them. And then there are the other two, whom I’ve seen around me at the time and still see in the bus on my way to work, at the mall, on the street, in daily life:
The Brain: There were shades of Anthony Michael Hall’s character in me. While I wasn’t a full-out nerd, I did join the math and debating clubs at various times. This is a kid who is inherent intelligent and likeable, but is too uncool to fit in with the regular crowd. He’s emotionally available, desiring contact with others and tries to reach out in his own way.
The Athlete: While I did play a lot of sports and was quite good at a few of them, I was never truly the athletic type; I was never pressured into performance, never had such high expectations from either of my parents. And I was too intellectual to have such a singular devotion to more physical pursuits, so sports eventually dropped off the map altogether. But this person exists, and many would easily relate.
The Basket Case: I was certainly the weird one, relishing in my weirdness even though it wasn’t at all out-of-this-world. I also kept to myself a lot, remained at a distance from the rest on purpose, feeling incapable of fitting in and choosing the safety of reclusiveness. I would probably relate to this character the most now, even though her penchant for lying is a way of being that I reject vehemently. I also hated that it’s suggested that all Ally Sheedy’s weirdo wants, ultimately, is to fit in and be like everyone else – as though she couldn’t just be happy being herself.
The Princess: Well, I never was a princess, but I did have a pony and dreamt of someday being rescued by my very own Prince Charming. Um… no. In fact, I couldn’t relate to this person one bit and have never associated with anyone like this, even though I have known a few in my life. The sense of entitlement, the arrogance and self-importance, just don’t jive with me one bit. But they’re out there. I’m sure many trophy wives would sympathize with Molly Ringwald’s character.
The Criminal: I was not a criminal, per se, nor was I abused by my parents, but I understood the festering anger and resentment that Judd Nelson’s rebel felt. His way of dealing with it was by pushing back, because it gave him a sense of control over his life and the tornado within. I certainly did that and sometimes still do. This guy’s a real jerk, but I grasped what was going on with him, where it all came from, and I can’t help but feel for him and hope that he’d see his way out.
The performances were pretty decent, given the age of the actors, and the level of film we’re dealing with (it is, let’s remember, only a teen comedy!). Some of it was over-the-top (such as Nelson’s monologues, for instance), and some was more two-dimensional (such as Emilio Estevez’ often blank, emotionless gaze), but they delivered their lines with just enough credibility to make these scripted people seem real.
They quite literally don’t make them like this anymore – not that they used to make tons of these in the first place. ‘The Breakfast Club’ is a rare gem in a genre that is often as formulaic as it is vacuous. Even though it’s 25 years old and looks (and sounds! ) dated, it remains extremely enjoyable and relevant today. One could do a heck of a lot worse than to spend a Saturday morning with ‘The Breakfast Club’. In fact, I’d recommend it at least once.
Brian Johnson: “Dear Mr. Vernon, What we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”