Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason & John Kapelos
Often labeled as one of the “greatest movies of the 80’s” and a film that defined a generation, THE BREAKFAST CLUB is one of director/writer John Hughes’s most famous titles. Over three decades later, it still has tons of fans, old and young. This is especially surprising when you consider that this film is basically a bunch of teenagers having different conversations in the space of one day. The film didn’t just get its reputation by being an 80’s comedy-drama featuring the “Brat Pack,” but instead received acclaim from having genuinely compelling characters and an honest emotional core at its center.
On a Saturday morning, five students reluctantly report to school for an all-day detention. They are there for a variety of reasons. John Bender is the troublemaker who enjoys making the assistant principal’s life as well as the lives of those around him difficult. Claire Standish is the popular rich girl who has a seemingly perfect existence. Andy Clark is a jock who’s trying to do his time in order to compete in his next wrestling meet. Brian Johnson is an over-achieving geek with straight A’s. Finally, Allison Reynolds is the silent outcast. Through the space of day, these teenagers from very different social cliques and lifestyles will come together, bond, and walk away as changed individuals with a new lease on life.
That sounds like a rather cheesy plot synopsis and it doesn’t quite do justice to the touching, profound nature of this film. This is essentially PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER of the 80’s. The screenplay, by John Hughes, starts off as funny and then slowly peels away (with humor) layer-by-layer to reveal the emotional truth beneath it all. The interaction between these five troubled teenagers feels realistic. We immediately have a sense of who these characters are from their brief introductions in the parking lot to how they compose themselves when the assistant principal enters the room. As the film goes on, the characters’ hostility towards one another gradually gives way to an appreciation of who they are and deeper questions of identity. I definitely wasn’t expecting this from an 80’s teen comedy, but that’s exactly why THE BREAKFAST CLUB sticks out from the pack of many other typical, generic 80’s rom-coms.
The aforementioned conversations that make up the film consist of what landed these kids in detention, their difficult home lives, and various other problems. However, the dialogue extends into far more mature territory as cliques and social structures are brought up in intelligent, funny ways. Each of these conversations is brought to life by the five protagonists. All of these characters are worth analyzing individually, but my personal favorites are Judd Nelson’s Bender and Molly Ringwald’s Claire. The former starts off as an unlikable (but entertaining) punk and then gradually morphs into a far more compelling, sympathetic character. The latter seems like a stand-offish spoiled brat, but gains empathy for her peers as the detention moves forward.
For a film that’s about five teenagers stuck in a library, BREAKFAST CLUB is more than interesting to watch and well-constructed in every aspect. John Hughes was an amateur filmmaker at the time and used a meager budget of 1 million to fulfill this passion project. The movie was shot on location at an Illinois high school and packs itself with more believable emotion and hard-hitting issues than most other serious dramas or slice-of-life comedies carry. It’s a film driven purely by believable acting and strong writing and should be praised for accomplishing so much with so little. Even the assistant principal becomes a complex character through his own minor story arc. Hughes could have easily just painted this authority figure as a one-note antagonist, but instead fleshes him out through a couple of stand-out sequences. He’s a man who seems to come to his own revelation by the time the final monologue closes out the film.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB is far more than just an 80’s classic or well-regarded teen comedy. There’s a reason that the film is still gaining new fans. There are actually high-school students at my workplace who praise this movie to the heavens. It speaks volumes that the film is still being discovered by a new audience and remains relevant to a generation who didn’t even live through the 80’s. That’s because the story and performances provide laughs and dramatic weight in equal measure. It’s as an uplifting viewing experience and I wanted to throw my fist in the air (much like Bender does in the final shot) as the end credits began to roll. THE BREAKFAST CLUB is a wonderful film that will never be forgotten!