THE 28: #23, THE BREAKFAST CLUB
Emilio Estevez: Andrew Clark
Molly Ringwald: Claire Standish
Judd Nelson: John Bender
Ally Sheedy: Allison Reynolds
Anthony Michael Hall: Brian Johnson
Paul Gleason: Richard Vernon
John Kapelos: Carl
Written & Directed by John Hughes
Released February 15th, 1985
Maybe it's because I graduated in 1985 and it is a representation of "my generation," but I've contended for years that THE BREAKFAST CLUB is the best high school movie ever made. I remember it as the first depiction of teenagers with which I could genuinely identify. No one character was an exact representation of me, but aspects of their personalities and experiences mirrored my own and I could empathize in some way with all of them. Turns out that was the whole point of the movie. After years of watching movie after movie trot out caricatures and gross misrepresentations of an 80s teenager, THE BREAKFAST CLUB (and another John Hughes film, SIXTEEN CANDLES), finally provided a cathartic outlet of my own angst.
The plot is a closed-room drama. Five teenagers have been sentenced to a Saturday of detention after breaking school rules. They represent certain high school archetypes: a princess, a rebel, a jock, a brain, and a basket case (we probably would've call her a spaz). They arrive one at a time, filter into the library, and are lectured about the rules of the day by their monitor, Mr. Vernon. He represents that teacher we all had at some point who believed they could straighten us out with nothing but bravado and platitudes. He wears a suit that prompts one of film's best lines.
The kids initially express no interest in learning about each other until the rebel, a kid named John Bender, starts hassling the princess, Claire. They're not supposed to be talking. They are each to write an essay describing who they are. Had I been in that detention and given that assignment, I would've relished the opportunity to write some good comedy. A rebel can't help himself, though, and Bender soon is picking on Claire and drawing the jock, Andrew, into the fray. Next to talk is the brain, Brian. Eventually, they notice the basket case Allison doing what basket cases do and they're all interacting. Over the course of the day, they insult each others friend circles, take turns defending each other, and bond over some pot. The day ends with the five of them learning they're not all that different.
I love THE BREAKFAST CLUB because it's the rare high school picture that doesn't pander to the audience or assume all teenagers are raging horndogs obsessed with getting laid. Yes, I remember being horny as adolescent, but also remember struggling with that even meant. My life wasn't a sex farce. I struggled with knowing where I fit into the social structure and never quite understand how lines were drawn in those days. THE BREAKFAST CLUB treated its teenagers with affection, empathy, and respect. The dialogue was smart and the characters talked the way my friends did.
The acting in this film is superb. Molly Ringwald as Claire, Emilio Estevez as Andrew, Ally Sheedy as Allsion, and Anthony Michael Hall as Brian all in top form. It is Judd Nelson's Bender, though, that stands out. He is the film's center. His behavior prompts reactions from the others. Calling out the bullshit around him accomplishes two things. First, for a kid like me, he had voice I wished I had. Second, his brashness and lack of filter draws the others out. If Claire had tried to initiate a group activity, Bender would shut it down. If Andrew tried to start a group conversation, Bender wouldn't take him seriously. Brian is far too timid and Allison isn't even there because she broke a rule. She's just there. It has to be Bender and Judd Nelson never hits a false note in the performance.
Watching the movie now through a 2018 lens, a glaring flaw stands out. Allison and Andrew develop a romance and Claire decides to transform her. She fixes her hair and makeup and she goes from an unkempt oddball to, well, a princess. This contradicts the basic message of the film, which is the longing to be accepted for who we are without having to explain ourselves. If this is what the group has come to believe, why make Allison conform to artificial standards of beauty?
The moment that sticks with me to this day is a question Brian asks toward the film's end. What happens Monday? When they go back to school and see each other in the halls, what happens? The truth that soured my belly was probably nothing would happen. Nothing would change. There were appearances to maintain, after all. Maybe I'm wrong. Sure, they might all eye each other give knowing smiles about an experience they shared, but I don't think they walked into their school with locked arms. No, most likely they developed a deeper understanding of their differences and a greater understanding of their similarities. Most importantly, they don't have to explain themselves. As a teenager, I remember craving that most of all.