A comforting nostalgic blast via one of John Hughes’ most enduring creations, The Breakfast Club (1985) encapsulates so many aspects of the teenage psyche that he tapped into during his glorious run in the 80’s. Surely this remains a guilty pleasure for more than a few teens of its time and the generations that have stumbled upon it ever since.
A fusion of classroom stereotypes, the film is best remembered for inverting the notion of cliques existing outside of themselves, with little in the way of recognizable connections. By the end of this miserable Saturday detention, the nerd, the rebel, the jock, the princess and the loner will have unlocked secret and surprising associations that make them more alike than they ever imagined.
Much of Hughes’ success comes down to relatability, his capacity to view the world through eyes wearying of life before their time, much as he did with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) a year later. Finding humour from the alienating dark days of youth and giving them meaning; making sense of the prisons imposed by parental expectation: these are the troubling, underlying conflicts that Hughes brings to life with his five distinctive, memorable Breakfast Club members.
John Bender (Judd Nelson) is the vocal outsider who defies the system, resentful of authority, forever close to imploding, and whose dad uses him as a punching bag. Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) is the easy target, the wannabe princess who eats confounding exotic foods like sushi and hangs out with all the cool, trendy girls. Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) is the nerd whose strong associations to academic clubs are symptomatic of the elite scholastic benchmarks expected by his parents. Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) is the high achieving athlete whose masculine acting-out is influenced by the iron fist wielded by an overbearing father. Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) is the reticent loner and compulsive liar, locked in a world of her own, retreating from the apathy of parents who shun her existence.
It’s an exceptional cast, all of them bringing these characters to life from the page, allowing complexities to surface through their humourous, sometimes heated, exchanges. A fortuitous career launching-pad for some, their work on this film has been hard to shake off, so deeply has it penetrated public consciousness in the intervening years – especially for those who perceived, in these refracted images of school life, uncomfortable manifestations of themselves.
The two supporting roles for Paul Gleason as their increasingly enraged supervisor Richard Vernon and John Kappalos as janitor Carl are further evidence of Hughes’ talent for creating meaningful moments from even the faintest opportunities afforded peripheral characters. Then there are the astute musical choices which linger long after the unofficial anthem of Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ has begun to fade with the closing credits.
Most 80’s films leave me feeling the exact opposite of this. Let’s be brutal – it was a mostly disastrous, embarrassing decade, but 30 plus years later, The Breakfast Club somehow retains every ounce of the potency beneath its deceptively simple set-up. Yes, there’s the ludicrous scene where Estevez does that silly venting dance around the upper storey before shattering the glass with his primal howl of rage; that aside, the refreshing truthfulness of its most fundamental ideas still holds significant weight, and in the light of the recent death of its influential creator, The Breakfast Club can justly be acclaimed for its ability to entertain and endure.