I just went upstairs to do my laundry, and before I knew it, I had watched “The Breakfast Club” from beginning to end.
I’ve seen it a number of times and perhaps did not glean anything new or radical from this viewing, but it remains a smart, infectious and frankly spellbinding film.
John Hughes’s classic is in my mind still the finest movie ever made in examining the way teenagers think, act, react, lash out, lie, communicate, argue, love and live.
“The Breakfast Club” is 27 years old, and it has not even begun to date itself. If there were to be a remake, it would be wise to update the story with GLBT discussion, social media and smart phone communication, hipsters and douchebags, racial diversity and attentiveness to how wired the youth generation is. What would get those five people talking if all of them had iPod, cell phone and internet access? It would also have to star Jesse Eisenberg or Michael Cera (Brian), Josh Hutcherson (Andrew), Elle Fanning (Claire), Chloe Moretz or Aubrey Plaza (Allison) and, well, I really can’t say who would take Judd Nelson’s part, so maybe some shining newcomer, but I digress.
But truthfully, this film doesn’t feel a day old. The character types in “The Breakfast Club” are broadly enough drawn that they still feel relatable today. They’re types, but not stereotypes, and the beauty of the film is in how it offers depth to all five of them, favoring Bender as a mysterious thug type early on but expanding to observe the inner conflict in them all.
Hughes never makes an outright point about teenagers, as they’re no more capable of understanding life than he or his audience is. But he does tell us that there is complexity, rebellion, pain and humor in us all, and with a little hard pressed honesty, we can see it. At the end of the day, we’ll do the same as Dean Vernon (Paul Gleason) will do after he reads Brian’s paper, and interpret these characters any way we want to.
I’m realizing now that “The Breakfast Club” is more of a cult favorite than it is a critical darling. It was the pinnacle film of the brat-pack era, and critics weren’t overly receptive to it. They saw Hughes’s ploy of putting all his characters into one room and forcing them to talk out their differences to be little more than a plot device. They saw it as a rehash of countless one-act plays on stage, and they would be right. How many movies today would even dare to do something so simple?
Considering that, “The Breakfast Club” could be a perfect fit on stage, but Hughes’s camera has so many lovely close-ups and shots isolating these figures in an artful tableaux that it belongs on screen. The movie’s first montage as they sit bored and fiddle with pencils, hoodie strings and more is as telling about teens as the unbelievably powerful powwow scene.
But consider also how much better the powwow scene is than it would be to send these characters back into the open world of high school. “The Breakfast Club” does not have a single one-dimensional character, not even Dean Vernon or Carl the janitor (John Kapelos). That would change if this had a conventional narrative, and suddenly their realizations could seem hackneyed and phony when stereotyping other high school students. Hughes’s screenplay is one of the rare examples in which it is preferable that he tell us about the characters rather than show us.
If I got sucked into the film, it’s because it’s also hilarious. Judd Nelson is pretty much the star here, but Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy get some great laughs too. Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez are the bigger heart of the story and aren’t as laugh out loud funny, but you couldn’t have this film without them.
I’ve pretty much said my piece on “The Breakfast Club.” It’s something of a masterpiece, and I don’t just mean that in a teen movie context.
I think if I had to choose a character I most closely identify with though, it would have to be Brian, for obvious, ironic reasons. This however rubs me the wrong way, because never have I seen a Hollywood movie where the good-looking, romantic lead is named Brian. Even in “The Breakfast Club,” Brian is the nerd in Physics and Math Club, does not get paired off with one of the girls and still ends up writing the entire paper. “Are your parents aware of this?”