Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Breakfast Club

There are few movies that define Generation X movie nostalgia love better than 1985's THE BREAKFAST CLUB.  Writer/director John Hughes' anthem of teen angst immediately resonated with high schoolers of all cliques and social circles, some of whom were represented - broadly - in the movie:

1.  Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez): Popular campus jock.  Driven hard by his father.  Self-described as a race horse.
2.  Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall): Brainy geek, nerd.  Wears high water pants. Member of the physics club.
3. Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald): Popular, wealthy.  Brings sushi to lunch.   Gets detention because she got caught ditching class to go shopping.
4. John Bender (Judd Nelson): Degenerate, troublemaker.  Comes from abusive household.  Keeps marijuana in his locker.
5. Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy): Reclusive "basket case", kleptomaniac.  Eats popcorn sandwiches.

The treatment must've made Universal executives nervous: Five high school archetypes sit around talking during a Saturday detention?! That's it? A majority of the movie's action occurs in a libraryThere is no sex, no nude scenes. There are drugs, cuss words, pop songs, and boatloads of attitude.  Hughes found just the right rhythm with this piece, this almost opened-up-filmed-play kind of movie.  The characterizations were rich on paper and nailed in the portrayals of the well selected Brat Pack cast. You might even say that each actor was never better than they were here.   And Hughes knew his audience.  We're still quoting the movie today.

The dialogue is sharp.  It always was in a Hughes film.  Sometimes harsh.  Even when things got silly in movies like SIXTEEN CANDLES and FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF.  The characters were far more intelligent than in your average youth comedy, and had conversations about things besides getting laid (although that is discussed as well, albeit more thoughtfully, for the most part).  Peppering those exchanges were phrases like "neo-maxi zoomed dweebie" and "locked in a vacancy".  

THE BREAKFAST CLUB, in many ways, hasn't aged well.  For all of its timeless observations on school politics and socioeconomic mores, the film feels like a relic shoved into some old box among clothes from Merry Go Round and Wham! cassettes.  Sure, the fashions, the music, the slang. Sooo '80s, but obviously that is the appeal. ... But it's just so...packaged. Compared to other, looser "hang out" pics like DAZED AND CONFUSED and OVER THE EDGE, it just seems a bit antiseptic.  Cliché ridden.  Hughes ties things up a bit too neatly by the end.  Some moments are just embarrassing, especially Andrew's calisthenics (and Wilhelm scream) after he puffs on some weed.

But, we're left with the feeling that this Saturday was a special moment in time, a perhaps singular event where social divisions were severed.  Prom queens and geeks could share a laugh (and a joint).  During the climax, as each character shares something painful about themselves, the probability that Claire will ignore the likes of Brian, John, and Allison in the hallway Monday morning is addressed.  That's realistic. Is there anything more urgent for a teenager than acceptance and confirmation by your peers?

That thought hangs over the remaining minutes of THE BREAKFAST CLUB, leading to Bender's walk across the football field, fist in the air.  The five characters had a treasurable moment, the kind that sadly is all too rare.  Maybe they realized it, maybe they just forgot about it.  Until they were older and in a reflective mood.  Too bad there never was a reunion sequel.  I think many BREAKFAST CLUB fans have already written their own.

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