Thursday, 7 January 2016


Despite some of the more later films that the late John Hughes was involved with (Maid in Manhattan and Home Alone 3, for example), Hughes will thankfully be remembered primarily for his output in the 1980s, which have gone on to become standards of the teenage drama genre. While I do hold a deep love for Pretty in Pink (except that ending!), and I was introduced to Ferris Bueller's Day Off after an English teacher was disgusted that the class hadn't seen the blue print to the ultimate sickie, it has taken me until recently to see maybe Hughes most famous film, The Breakfast Club.

The film is essentially a bottle episode, examining what would happen if you force the various "tribes" of high schoolers together. The Breakfast Club acts as a simultaneous fantasy and conformation for its audience on what its like to be teenager (more on that later). Taking place on a cold Saturday afternoon, five kids are given a pretty harsh punishment of spending all day in detention. We are introduced to our characters: Claire the princess (Molly Ringwald), Bender the criminal (Judd Nelson), Andy the athlete (Emilio Estevez), Brian the brain (Anthony Michael Hall), and Allison the basket case (Ally Sheedy). They are challenged by their principal, Dick Vernon (Paul Gleason), to sit in silence all day and write an essay on who they think they are.

As you can expect, the silence doesn't last long. Almost immediately, Bender starts causing hassle, much to the annoyance of the principle and the other students. It soon transpires that Bender has a pretty huge chip on his shoulder, due to family problems, and its almost like he wants the eight more detentions he gets when he argues with Vernon. We soon find out though that everyone in this group has something in common, and that is that they are all misunderstood, whether by other students or by the adults around them.

In many of Hughes films, the adults are truly the flawed characters, and the kids suffer as they are forced to bare the brunt of the adults ambitions and contempt for them. The Breakfast Club has a very heavy handed approach to this plot devise, with the students complaining throughout how they have "unsatisfactory home life", and how they feel they won't live up to their parents expectations, or even the fact that their parents have no expectations for them at all. The most important character in this film though is Vernon, who openly has contempt for all the kids at the school. In a great scene with the wiser than he looks janitor, Carl (John Kapelos), Vernon laments that children have changed, and he fears the generation that will look after him in his old age. Carl retorts back at him Vernon's hypocrisy, as he was once a lofty kid himself once. Of course, it is Vernon that puts these labels on the students, and the kids in their junior wisdom realise that it doesn't matter what they think of themselves, as the authority will never change their mind about them.

It was interesting to see Molly Ringwald play the popular girl, as she played the down on her luck outsider in Pretty in Pink, even if she does look exactly the same in this film. As in many 80s films, the costumes are an incredible slice of the times, but one thing that always disappoints me is the make-over scenes, and Richee and I both exclaimed our dislike of Claire's transformation of turning the messy-haired, grungy kohl eyed Allison into a rabbit in the headlights-cum-creepy Victorian porcelain doll. As in many of these teenage flicks, the weird girl has to change her appearance drastically in order to win the boy, while he's still allowed to go around wearing sweat pants. One cliche I always find painful to watch.

As I mentioned earlier, The Breakfast Club is a fantasy and a confirmation for its audience. It's a fantasy because I imagine many teenagers would just like the opportunity to justify their personality to their fellow students. Secondly, its a confirmation that, indeed, adults don't have your best interests at heart, that they hold kids accountable for their own misery, and that, yes, even the person you just had a heart to heart with will ignore you the next day.

What The Breakfast Club does brilliantly, which many other teen movies fail at, is that it doesn't patronise its audience. The conversations feel organic, and there's no big ceremonial end to solidify their discoveries. They go to detention, they talk, argue, dance, then get picked up by their parents at 4pm. The films almost lackadaisical approach to story telling is its biggest strength, as it allows what could of been lazy characterisation to actually breath and develop. The Breakfast Club is a rare pause for thought in a genre filled with fatalism and insincerity.


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