Dir: John Hughes. 1985
John Hughes’ debut feature, is the quintessential teen movie. Perfect in its depiction of teenage angst and a desire to belong, or fit in, Hughes has captured the real pain and sorrow of high school and the dysfunctions of social class.
Five teenagers, spend a Saturday in school detention. Despite attending the same high school, the detainees are all strangers to one another. John Bender (Judd Nelson) is a trouble making “criminal”, from a violent and abusive home. Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) is the spoilt rich girl, a “Princess”. Andy Clarke (Emilio Estevez) is in the wrestling club and big on sports. The school jock, he is considered the “athlete”. Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) has a tendency to act in bizarre behaviour and lives in her own world. She is thought of as a “basket case”. Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), has a high intelligence, and the most academically gifted. As a member of the physics and maths clubs, Brian is labelled “the nerd”.
Overseeing the detention, is principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). Short tempered, Vernon has no time for his temporary wards (Bender in particular) and enjoys the authority that he wields.
The Breakfast Club follows every high school cliche, yet remains original at the same time. This is purely down to Hughes’ writing. Superb in his characterisations, Hughes would never write anything as poignant and true as this.
The cast have never been better. These are the roles they were born to play and will forever be remembered for. Each and every actor is pitch perfect in their portrayal.
Although primarily a comedy, the film has a vein of drama coursing through it, tinging the humour with an acidic bite, which creates an unpleasant taste of reality.
The Breakfast Club doesn’t have a leading star, as such; the whole cast are equal. But, Nelson as Bender, has acquired the title of unofficial leading man and he thoroughly deserves it. Although each character has their own complexities, it’s Bender that is the most layered and believable. Angry and hurting, yet scared and alone, Bender is a guy lost in a life full of violence and abuse without any way of getting out. As a defining anti-hero, the delinquent is the funniest and most likeable of the five, despite his trouble causing and bullying ways. This is a reflection on Judd Nelson’s ability, to convey the pain and fear of parental abuse, while also displaying a comedic talent.
As the power mad principle, Paul Gleason is on fine form. Typecast in gruff, aggressive roles, Gleason always played the parts magnificently. Whether it’s Trading Places, this or Die Hard, the late Gleason always made an impact and made sure his characters were memorable.
Of all the roles, surprisingly it’s Estevez of the Sheen acting dynasty that is the weakest link. While still great in his role, he seems unable to bring out the emotions that his co-stars are adept at.
It’s a sad fact that, despite going on to have fairly lustrous careers, the cast never got the greater recognition that they so deserved. Resigned to straight to video films and guest stars on TV shows, they will forever be remembered as the “brat pack”.
For all its brilliance, the film is letdown, somewhat, by not being as comical as it should be. Certainly, there are some very funny moments, but they are few and far between. You can’t help shake the feeling that it should be funnier.
Carrying a rather sparse soundtrack, the Simple Minds track Don’t You Forget About Me, is a prominent and wonderful song that encapsulates the feelings of the teenagers, when the day is over.
In the thirty years since its release, little of the film has dated and is still as pivotal today as it was in 1985.
No surprise that the film is a cult classic, The Breakfast Club is a joyful and entertaining look at the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in eighties America.