The Breakfast Club (1985)
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason
Directed by: John Hughes
I caught this on Movie Central HD recently, and with it came this stark realization: I had never seen this movie in full before. Now, before you get too excited, hear me out. Like anyone who is anyone, I’ve seen this movie dozens of times on television. It very well may be the hardest movie in the history of cinema to flip past on a Sunday afternoon. But, those are edited versions of the movie. Of course, I’ve also seen the unedited version on VHS several times… but those are fullscreen editions (and, as you should know, fullscreen is not the whole movie). So this was the first time I’ve seen an unedited, widescreen presentation of John Hughes‘ 80s masterpiece.
Also, this was the first time I’ve watched the movie since I’ve developed my tougher critical faculty, and was worried that it might not be the classic I remembered it to be. I needn’t have. If anything, my newfound snobbery and the chance to see it as it was intended only made me appreciate this movie more. It is a true touchstone of its time, a fun, intelligent, spirited affair, and quite possibly the best teen movie of all-time.
Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles are both significant entries in the teen movie canon, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off might even be a better movie, but without The Breakfast Club, I don’t think Hughes would be the iconic name he is today. The concept of the movie is brilliant in its simplicity: take five teenage archetypes (a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal), force them into a situation where they are forced to deal with one another, watch them interact and bond. It’s a fantastic storytelling device, giving everyone in the audience a character to attach to, then revealing not how the characters are different, but instead how they are similar. It’s such a great device that one of my favourite late-season episodes of ER is when they did a Breakfast Club-type episode. If “serious” medical dramas are taking their ideas from an 80s teen movie, you know it was on to something.
The true greatness of the movie, beyond its premise, is how it manages to capture teenage angst with believable teenage behaviour and dialogue, instead of making its kids sound like PhD holders with a heightened understanding of their emotional responses and hormonal imbalances (I’m looking at you, Kevin Williamson). The cast all nail their characters, making them far more interesting than the simple stereotypes they were set up to be. Anthony Michael Hall is the stand-out of the cast, starting off as embarrassingly socially awkward and ending the film by almost breaking your heart. Oh, and Judd Nelson was even more fucking harsh than I remember him being (from years of watching edited version, no doubt).
Some might think of The Breakfast Club as a simple teen movie from an artistically bankrupt decade, a piece of pop fluff, a guilty pleasure if you will. Those people would be wrong. No, The Breakfast Club is better than that. A hallmark of its genre, a benchmark of its time, it’s not as good as you remember it to be, it’s better.