The Breakfast Club (1985) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong language, sexual references, and a scene of drug use
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos
Director: John Hughes

Screenplay: John Hughes
Review published December 29, 2006

In the mid-1980s, it seemed that writer-director John Hughes (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles) could no no wrong.  That's certainly the case with The Breakfast Club, the most adult of his teen pictures, and certainly the one that comes closest to a cynical portrayal of the difficulties of being a teenager.  Utilizing his archetypical ensemble of characters, Hughes paints a portrait of teenage life as set with common themes, despite varying backgrounds.  Everyone from the dirt bag to the princess has their own set of pressure, from their peers and from their parents, and every one of them wishes they could be more like the others, despite their outward demonstrations of superiority.

The premise is simple, but still quite refreshingly unique.  Five high school students are forced to attend a Saturday detention in the school library, watched over by the hard-assed principal, Mr. Vernon (Gleason, Trading Places).  Andy (Estevez, Nightmares) is the jock, Claire (RIngwald, Pretty in Pink) is the popular one, Brian (Hall, Six Pack) is the nerd, Allison (Sheedy, WarGames) is the freak, and John Bender (Nelson, Steel) is the juvenile delinquent -- each has a transgression which comes to light as they get to know one another, born out of immense pressure to succeed or gain acceptance from their peers.  Bender is the catalyst of the group, provoking the others with his aggressive behavior, which causes some rifts, but also unifies them as well.  Although they are all very different, traveling in independent social circles, they soon come to terms with one another, able to get out their feelings in a way that they've never quite been able to do with their parents or with other members of their own respective peer group.

I don't always get personal in my reviews, but with The Breakfast Club, I feel the need to mention that when I saw it as a teenager, I actually considered it my favorite film for a short period.  I suspect that I was going through some of the same feelings as those expressed by the main characters at the time, and that this film, unlike any other I had seen up to that point, actually spoke a certain language I could identify with that other movies aimed at teenagers seemed to lack.  It didn't pander or preach, and it certainly didn't speak down to its target audience, which in my eyes made it something worth revisiting as often as possible, as if it were some sort of vital food for the soul.

I think that, as time went by, and as I matured out of my teenage years, a film like The Breakfast Club no longer held the same meaning for me.  I didn't really understand why until I saw it this year, now that I'm fully into adulthood.  There is a scene that didn't quite register with me as a teen that speaks more to me as an adult, where Principal Vernon is expressing his dismay at how teenagers seem to be growing steadily more aggressive as the years pass, and Carl the janitor (Kapelos, The Late Shift) tells him that the students have always been the same, it's just him that has changed. 

This is the exact reason why The Breakfast Club holds more importance to teenagers as it does to adults -- the problems in the film are universal, and almost wholly identifiable as teen problems.  Those problems pre-existed this film, and they will continue to exist for teenagers long into the future.  Virginity, drug use, scholastic achievements, parental acceptance, social status -- all of these things held a great deal of importance way back when, but they fade ever distant in the memory until we get to the point where we "become our parents", people who have no capability of understanding any more.

I am certain if you were to ask me when I first saw this film at the age of 15 what I would rate it, I would easily give it 5 stars.  Seeing it today, I couldn't even imagine bestowing it anything of the sort.  I don't think it's entirely just because my tastes have changed over the years, although I am certain they have.  It's really a matter of personal connection to the movie on a thematic level that existed far stronger, and with much more resonance in my more formative years.  Looking at it now, I see that the film has its share of flaws -- the wild shifts in tone, the over-the-top angst demonstrations (Andrew screams and breaks the glass pane of a door), and the sometimes pat stereotypes that abound.  As a teenager, none of those things really mattered to me, precisely because every other film up to that point that I had seen were full of stereotypes about kids and teens, so I naturally overlooked them in favor of that which I hadn't seen: the depth, maturity and keen, honest observations not readily found in other films for my age group.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that The Breakfast Club is some sort of masterpiece, or even a truly great movie by my personal current standard of measuring such things, but there is something perfect about the fact that it is inherently imperfect, as contradictory as that might sound.  Like most teenagers, there are growing pains and a search for some sort of identity, and it makes sense for the film about these things to be a bit schizophrenic and awkward as well. 

Teen films have come and gone, and I've seen more than my fair share of them, but I've never seen another film that compares.  Younger kids probably won't grasp the importance of the issues underneath, while adults seeing it for the first time will probably see the film's missteps all too glaringly.  However, in terms of movies I'd recommend to a teenager, The Breakfasst Club easily ranks up near the top of the list --  a film that is perfect for a certain key demographic unlike any other.  Kindred spirits will relate. as the quote from David Bowie that introduces the film states, "They're quite aware of what they're going through". 

Qwipster's rating

©2006 Vince Leo