“I want to be just like you. I figure all I need is a lobotomy and some tights”
The Breakfast Club was a proud member of the John Hughes’ Mid-80s Teen Flicks Hall of Fame, a hall in which many of us here at Nostalgia Central Towers still come regularly to worship.
His Sixteen Candles, made a 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 just one location, there’s a small cast and not a whole lot of action – but still, teen profundities abound.
Five teenagers from five different social castes are locked up in the school 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 – Bender doesn’t. He wants the whole detention to be a miserable, soul-numbing experience for his charges – but instead, it’s a revelation for each. A crabby old adult can’t get a break – at least in a John Hughes movie.
The popular jock Andrew (Emilio Estevez) and popular Homecoming Queen Claire (Molly Ringwald) are acquaintances who can’t believe the bad luck of this plebeian library lock-up. Geeky Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) eagerly tries to ingratiate himself, because ingratiating himself – with everyone at any time – is what he’s programmed to do.
Dandruffy wallflower Allison (Ally Sheedy) watches the proceedings from the corner table and forgoes verbalisation for squeaks.
Regular detention patron John Bender (Judd Nelson) does enough verbalisation 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.
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 colours fly.
Contrary to teen genre standards of those years, there was no sex or violence here (oh sure, there was insinuation). But there was plenty of colourful 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”
No single film better epitomised the 80s, or has become more of a cult movie for teens, than The Breakfast Club, which not only made Hughes a name to watch – he went on to make the terrific Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and hugely successful Home Alone (1990) – but also brought together a skilled group of young actors that the media dubbed “The Brat Pack“.
Much imitated in numerous films and TV series, this ultimate teen movie has never been bettered.
Anthony Michael Hall