“How come Andrew gets to get up? If he gets up, we’ll all get up, it’ll be anarchy!”
And as soon as hooligan John Bender took that screw out of the library door in 1985′s The Breakfast Club, that’s exactly what erupted. It was anarchy because members of five different high school social cliques got together, and even better than that, they actually got along. It was anarchy because by the end of the movie, the five high-schoolers were volumes more enlightened and mature than when they were dropped off just a few hours earlier. If Saturday detentions really taught so much about life, love, growing up and the regrettable fact that they just don’t make overhead roof ducts as sturdy as they used to…well then, lock us all up.
The Breakfast Club was a proud member of the “John Hughes’ Mid-80′s Teen Flicks Hall of Fame,” a hall in which many of us still come regularly to worship. His Sixteen Candles, made the year earlier, looked at characters from two different social castes (“popular” and the “distinctly less-popular”). Breakfast Club looked at five, in a context that was memorably simple. The story’s timetable is just one day, its venue is a single location, there’s a small cast and not a whole lot of action…and yet, teen profundities abound. It’s hard for some of us not to wax embarrassingly elegiac about this one. If you grew up in the 80′s, you might be inclined to still put it on your Netflix queue, even though you exceeded the normal movie viewing quota many, many moons ago.
Five teenagers from five different social castes are locked up in the library for one long, all-day Saturday detention. School administrator Mr. Vernon, with all the weight of the cynical adult world planted firmly on his shoulders, supervises them. He wants things quiet…they’re not. He wants hooligan John Bender to behave himself…he doesn’t. He wants the whole detention to be a miserable, soul-numbing experience for his charges… instead, it’s a revelation for each. It would seem that a crabby old adult can’t get a break, at least not in a John Hughes movie.
The popular jock Andrew and über-popular Homecoming Queen Claire are acquaintances who can’t believe the bad luck of this plebian library lock-up. Geeky Brian eagerly tries to ingratiate himself, because ingratiating himself-with everyone at any time-is what he’s programmed to do. Dandruffy wallflower Allison watches the proceedings from the corner table and forgoes verbalization for squeaks. Regular detention patron John Bender does enough verbalization for everyone, effectively fanning the flames of argument until the boxes of social expectation that these teens are trapped in…well, by the time the day is done, they bust right open.
John Hughes wrote, directed and produced this teen drama; he set it, as he often did, in suburban Chicago. There were Hughesian themes running throughout: a teenager’s isolation and displacement, no matter how popular or moneyed he or she happens to be; the unfortunate short-sightedness of adults and authority figures; the redemption and freedom that come when a teen can break out of social stereotypes and let his true colors fly. Contrary to teen genre standards of the era, there was no sex or violence here (oh sure, there was insinuation). But there was plenty of colorful language, usually in the form of the insults-Bender vs. Vernon, or Bender vs. Everyone Else-that were bandied about in the first half of the movie before the cross-clique “Kumbayah” commenced.
Vernon requests a paper from each of the kids, but of course they don’t get written-there’s been too much bonding, and way too many heart-to-hearts. Brian does pen a little something from the group though, and his treatise-recited in voice-over at the end of the film-sounds off like the Gen-X Gettysburg to devoted Hughes fans. We’d seen teen angst before, but never such poetic triumph over angst:
“Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But 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. Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club”
We won’t bother to ask if there are fans of this film among us; that would be a silly question. Rather, we invite you to share your memories of The Breakfast Club in our comments section. Tell us who you identified with, tell us about any truths that you learned from the wisdom of John Hughes, and tell us what most strongly resonated with you, as we look back at one of the most fondly remembered films of the 80s.