The Breakfast Club (1985)

22 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Breakfast Club” is a delight. It’s a wonderful, funny, feel-good comedy/drama with this simple premise—five strangers spend a day together and become closer than anyone could have imagined. Make the five strangers into teenagers from different high school cliques and have them in detention together and you have “The Breakfast Club,” a movie written, produced, and directed by John Hughes, who also made the sweet “Sixteen Candles” and actually takes teenagers seriously. Hughes creates teenage movie characters as real teenagers—young people wanting to belong in this world. Usually for the 1980s, a lot of movies will depict teenagers as simply sex-crazed or dumb or just victims in a slasher movie, like the “Friday the 13th” movies. But not with John Hughes writing the material. “The Breakfast Club” is one of those rarities that makes teenagers into three-dimensional characters while adding realistic drama and comic relief.

So we have the five teenage leads from different groups in high school—we have Brian who is a brain (ha ha), Andrew Clark who is a jock, Bender who is a rebel, Claire who is the queen bee, and Allison who is a “basket case.” They are forced to spend a Saturday in the library for a full-day detention and are checked up on every now and then by the strict vice principal Vernon (Paul Gleason).

When the day starts, they have nothing to say to each other and want nothing to do with each other. By the end of the day, they have shared their feelings and realize that they can become friends. All of this is told almost all in dialogue. Each character has his/her moment to express themselves. We feel for each of them. And the way the script is almost entirely written in dialogue, you think this could possibly be a play, especially in the scene in which the kids all sit in the floor and have a sort-of “group therapy” session. This goes on for 20 minutes, but it doesn’t get boring because we really do feel for these people.

For example, we learn that Andrew (Emilio Estevez) has a father who is a practical perfectionist who wants Andrew to win every time, and that drove Andrew to the point where he went over the edge just to please him. For Bender (Judd Nelson), the idea of pleasing his own father is difficult, since his own father is the possible abusive type who probably can never please him, whatever he does. Maybe this is why Bender is a rebel. Isn’t rebellion started by parents’ ignorance? Come to think of it, that could be why Allison (Ally Sheedy) is a recluse.

The acting is very good, especially from Judd Nelson as the down-on-his-luck criminal Bender; he’s very good here. And the other actors, more experienced than Nelson at the time, are good too—Molly Ringwald shows a different side to the character of a high school beauty, Emilio Estevez is strong as a tortured athlete, Ally Sheedy is suitably weird as the weirdo who is also a compulsive liar, and Anthony Michael Hall is a likable (and realistic) nerd (he shows you don’t have to look like a geek—he doesn’t have zits or thick glasses; you just have to act like one to be labeled a “geek”).

If there’s a weakness, it’s that the adults aren’t as drawn out. John Kapelos, as a smart-aleck janitor named Carl, is OK in his small role, but Paul Gleason’s character of the strict vice principal is one-dimensional and the scene in which he tries to connect with Carl is brief and not very interesting.

The question that Brian, the brain, asks near the end of the film is shocking to hear because even though we all were probably expecting the subject to come around, I wasn’t ready for it. Brian asks the question of what’s going to happen when all five of them go back to school. Will they still be friends? The answer he receives is the harsh truth. This is the film’s most powerful moment because it has a ring of truth and really draws the line as to where high school kids stand as individuals. What will happen? Who knows? But the ending does what it can to have the assumption that maybe they can still be friends. We don’t know what happens after this day, which is why we really have to think about who these people are and what sort of people they’re going to become.

I don’t want to make “The Breakfast Club” sound so deep that people wouldn’t be interested because there are moments when it’s fun, particularly when the kids sneak out of the room and have to get back before Vernon realizes they’re gone. But at the surface, this is a strong coming-of-age teenage film that has more than meets the eye.

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