Five teenagers in a large library. Each of them serving detention for a different reason. Each coming from a different background and ending up in different school cliques. Each with their own specific way of handling confronting situations. Each realizing that they are actually not that different from the freak next to them.
The Breakfast Club is an entertaining dramedy about youngsters getting to know each other over the course of eight or so hours, but more than that, it’s a powerful examination of what it means to be a teenager, caught between a rock (parents) and a hard place (school).
Even though the year is 1985, and we are bombarded by time capsuled ’80s music, this problem that teens have with the older generation is a problem that is as strong today as it was all those years ago. It’s something we just cannot seem to run away from, as hard as we try. “I don’t like you”, “You don’t like me”, “I hate you”, “I hate my life”. The voice of the tortured youth is usually never heard. Until this movie.
I am reminded of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, another coming-of-age tale about youngsters trying to fit in to the collegiate society, and ultimately failing. But where it deals with teens trying to socialize with other teens, The Breakfast Club deals with teens getting to grips with who they are on the outside, the inside, and who the adult world perceives them to be. The teens in Perks are passive and quiet; the teens in The Breakfast Club are vocal and honest.
The quintet is composed of Andy “the jock” (Emilio Estevez), Claire “the princess” (Molly Ringwald), Brian “the brain” (Anthony Michael Hall), Allison “the basket case” (Ally Sheedy), and John “the criminal” (Judd Nelson). Writer/director John Hughes obviously has a statement to make, with each character representing a different school social class, and constructs them with individual personalities that, surprisingly, make them all likable. Even John, with all his obnoxious behaviour and uncouth blurts, still manages to win our hearts and our support. Nice guys finish last? Well then it’s no wonder that John comes in first.
He gets some of the best lines, and his banter with vice principal, Vernon (Paul Gleeson), is always great to watch. Their attempts to outsmart the other becomes a fierce competition that ends up with Vernon flexing his official muscle and threatening to destroy the “bum” John. Turns out, not even he is who he seems to be. The janitor, too, is not given the freedom to be a one-dimensional character — the few lines of dialogue he has are enough to give him a backstory, a sense of humour, a conscience, and a moral centre. Hughes is so careful with the formation of his characters that they’re executed with immense precision by an almost flawless cast.
The story begins rather normal, with each student refusing to entertaining the other. We’d expect that to be the case in any such scenario. Naturally, it’s the outspoken John who gets the ball rolling, and breaks the uncomfortable ice by taunting and teasing his fellow detainees. His reputation as a crook has earned him the skills and the guts to talk back to authority, and the savvy to navigate his deserted school halls — and air ducts — without getting caught. He slowly but surely pisses everyone else off, but the rest know that they need him if they’re going to survive the torturous eight hours, and so they tolerate his nonsense.
Eventually — with John leading the way — truths are revealed and characters morph personalities the more honest they get. These truths are not all that ground breaking, but the movie doesn’t need them to be. We’re not watching it with the intention of going “Oh my god, I can’t believe he did that!”, we’re watching it because we want to know how these five seemingly different people come to understand each other, even if they don’t fully like each other.
Are these teenagers believable? I’ll let you decide that. Are they relatable? I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who think they are, even if I don’t. What compels me about them are their personalities, their situations, and their stories. Even their destinations are not all that interesting, but after having witnessed their journey, things can be forgiven.
When they started the eight hours, I got the feeling that these were five young people who were too proud or too ignorant to be aware of the bigger picture, that they were too focused on the eight hours of their saturday being wasted to fully appreciate the idea of detention (which, in all honesty, is a joke). But by the end of the movie, I realized that the bigger picture for them is detention. They used the time wisely and ultimately came out the stronger, if not the better.
Best Moment | The unpacking of the lunches was a pretty funny moment. But the scene where the kids bare all is quite possibly the most powerful.
Worst Moment | Nope.