Release Date: February 15th, 1985 (US); June 7th, 1985 (UK)
Genre: Comedy; Drama
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Michael Anthony Hall, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy
Society, redrawn as high school in The Breakfast Club, understands its five student detainees in the simplest, most convenient terms: Brain, Princess, Criminal, Athlete, Basket Case. To this lot, Saturday detention is the worst possible way they could spend their premier day of week. But it becomes the best possible endeavour soon enough — during this time, they figure out life. The Breakfast Club sees writer-director John Hughes at his very best, thriving atop apparently mundane ground and creating a parable of conscience and conscientiousness that utterly soars.
Watching the group uphold perceived convention is hilarious: Bender (the criminal, played by Judd Nelson) and Brian (the brain, Michael Anthony Hall) simultaneously begin to remove their jackets before catching eyes, at which point the latter gives in to the former’s steely glare and halts immediately. Brian passes his subsequent non-removal off as a swift re-evaluation of the room temperate — suddenly it is too cold to be without a coat. There’s the assumption that Andy (the athlete, Emilio Estevez) and Claire (the princess, Molly Ringwald) are dating, or at least that they ought to be. Meanwhile, Allison (the basket case, Ally Sheedy) spends at least half an hour chewing her nails.
Lunch adheres to the same stereotypical premise: one eats sushi with a wooden placemat; one unloads a full refrigerator of food; one swaps a ham filling for a sugar and crisp concoction; one scoffs on crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; one has nothing at all. It’s all on purpose of course. The narrative necessitates this establishment of falseness, and Hughes obliges purely so he can tear said falseness apart as the film unfolds. It isn’t a straightforward ride into the land of truth — the students annoy each other incessantly and chip away at their various flaws before there is any substantial breakthrough. The breakthrough, when it does finally arrive, takes the form of a totally gripping 20-minute centrepiece discussion played beautifully by all five actors (they excel throughout).
As assistant head teacher Richard Vernon, Paul Gleason evokes a self-absorbed Ben Horne vibe. Just like said Twin Peaks character, Vernon is the ultimate corporate villain, a bully. He engages in name-calling and literally pushes the group around in an attempt to assert his authority. Gleason’s performance is exaggerated, but the point remains: the school principal is just as bad, if not worse, than his younger acquaintances yet for some reason society dictates otherwise. Parents receive it in the neck too. No adult is safe because no adult ‘gets it’, with the exception of school janitor Carl (John Kapelos), who commands a reprieve as his job suggests he isn’t one of the corporate rule-makers.
The five teens cannot help but stick up for one another during unfair inquisitions; they collectively concoct an alibi defending Bender after he sneaks out of a locked room and tumbles through the ceiling, causing a ruckus. Though their egos haven’t wholly meshed by this point, they each know who the real enemy is. Bender gets most of the flack, especially from Vernon who has clearly given up on his student. Even though the troublemaker isn’t all that likeable, we sympathise with him because at this point nobody else has, not at home nor in school, and that is why he acts out.
It wouldn’t be a John Hughes film without effective comedy. Pinpoint visual gags accompany those of the vocal variety: “Who has to go to the lavatory?” asks Vernon, and five hands shoot up instantaneously. Vernon actually rattles off a whole host of brilliant lines, including the delightfully playful, “Grab some wood there, bub” (again aimed at Bender). The film jaunts along with unruly energy, matching the 80s teenage bombast evoked in movies such as Risky Business — Andy even shows off some classic Cruisian dance moves.
The Breakfast Club is right up there alongside Richard Linklater’s School of Rock as one of the very best classroom flicks. And just like School of Rock, a very real case of stickittothemaneosis meaningfully pulses through its veins. Rebellion is the on the curriculum and these kids pass with flying colours. For further details, refer to the film’s finale: one of the most empowering final sequences in movie history fittingly serenaded by Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. We won’t.
Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures