The Breakfast Club: 30 years later

“…and these children that you spit on, as they try to change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…” — David Bowie

According to the film, “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal” first convened at Saturday detention in 1984. 30 years later, why does anyone still care?

The Breakfast Club premiered in 1985 and became a quintessential–if not the quintessential–Generation X movie. After years of Baby Boomer teen movies, most of which were horror films where teenagers did as much partying as they did dying, The Breakfast Club was somewhat of a novelty. Five high schoolers, who were not all the same, were speaking seriously in an angsty comedy. It was unheard of.

But now, at the 30th anniversary, people are still talking about, watching and enjoying The Breakfast Club. John Hughes is a household name. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is universally recognizable. The Breakfast Club is iconic. It’s a classic.

At first glance, The Breakfast Club is a glorified “elevator piece” (where, say, two or more characters–total opposites–get stuck in an elevator or something similar). Five vastly different students suffer through an 8-hour detention, stuck in their high school’s library. Hughes created five characters, threw them in a room together and let them react. They argue with each other, they confide in each other and they smoke a joint.

But The Breakfast Club transcends its cliched “elevator piece” label to become a movie unique unto itself, and its uniqueness has kept it around all these years.

As a dialogue- and character-driven film, the greatness lies within the characters. The students themselves are archetypes: Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy), Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) and John Bender (Judd Nelson) are “the brain,” “the athlete,” “the basket case,” “the princess” and “the criminal” respectively. They are five basic stereotyped representations of teenagers.

But these stereotypes do not make for weak characters. There is something in at least one of the characters everyone can identify with. While nobody can say, “I am 100% Bender; I think like him, I talk like him and my life is exactly like his,” a movie is not expected to provide that kind of mirror. Life and high school may not be as concrete as the absolute division of The Breakfast Club’s characters may portray it, but aspects of every character are reflected in the audience. Someone can be a mélange of a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.

At the same time, The Breakfast Club forces these stereotypes to be seen differently from how Vernon (Paul Gleason) sees them–as he wants to see them. The stereotypes are identifiable but so is the angst behind the stereotypes (which is also slightly cliched). Their cliched angst is generic enough that anyone could be going through the same thing, yet poignant enough that it helps each character transcend their label. The Breakfast Club tries to tell an honest story in the most basic, universal way possible, and it succeeds.

At his peak, John Hughes was a mastermind behind some truly great teen movies–The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off included. They’re all relatable, and there is something exceptional about each one, whether the characters, the soundtrack or the humor. Ferris Bueller might be funnier and Pretty in Pink’s soundtrack might singlehandedly make it my favorite John Hughes movie, but The Breakfast Club, at its core, is a teen movie that reaches new heights. Though a comedy, it’s serious. It’s simultaneously cliched and original. Its signature song is bigger than the whole Pretty in Pink soundtrack. The Breakfast Club set the standard for every other teen movie and is not only fundamentally better than Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller–it’s the basis for them.

Ultimately, it’s the innate relatability of The Breakfast Club that makes it John Hughes’ best, the quintessential Gen X movie and a paradigm of classic movies for all generations. At the 30th anniversary, it’s only more clear The Breakfast Club is not isolated in 1984–it is still a true film. People still watch The Breakfast Club, analyze The Breakfast Club, write about The Breakfast Club. It continues to insert its influence into teen movies from Heathers to American Pie.

People still care because The Breakfast Club still matters. It is still true. Nobody has done the same thing better, and the film still holds up. Does that answer the question?

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