Back in the 1980s, John Hughes wrote and directed some of the best high school movies ever made. “The Breakfast Club” is probably his smartest, most achieved film. Hughes takes one person in each of the 5 most representative kinds of high school kids and sticks them together in a room for a whole day. They’ve all been sentenced to spend a Saturday in detention, for different reasons. So here they are, all 5 of them. They’re all so different, they can’t communicate at first. But as the boredom grows, they start confronting ideas, opening their hearts, talking about who they really are. We see that behind the image, everyone of ’em is confused. Aren’t we all like that in high school?
The film smartly answers the question. It plays on different levels, from the moving revelations to funnier moments. Hughes’ screenplay is bittersweet, but what really sticks is a feeling that there is hope, of course. The bunch do have a whole lotta fun during this day that should have been such a drag. They kid around, they get high, they dance on the tables… Even love springs out.
On the filmmaking side, Hughes does a surprisingly good job. In his other films, his direction is sometimes deficient. But his second film is made with high energy and style in addition to being based on his best script. Right from the opening credits, we know that it’s a special film. The titles roll on Simple Minds‘ smash hit Don’t You (Forget About Me), and then we read an interesting quote from David Bowie: “…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…”
And then, BANG! The frame explodes to show shots of the school as we hear Anthony Michael Hall philosophizing about the situation. We first get an idea of the characters: there’s the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal. But as the film goes on, we’ll understand that no one can really be summed up in a title. That’s why the film has to be seen more than once. I myself watched it two times in a row. The second time around, now that we heard the characters spill their guts, each line or shot is understood better. You can see how brilliant the film truly is.
Another exceptional thing about “The Breakfast Club” is how talented the cast it. No wonder every one of the 5 leads became a huge star (for a while at least) as part of the infamous Brat Pack and that the film is often called the quintessential film of the 1980s. I mean, critics often give that honor to “Raging Bull”, but as good a film as it is, how the hell does it relate to the decade?
Even if every cast member as pretty much the same importance, the most memorable one is Judd Nelson. He plays Bender, an arrogant misfit who seems to like trouble. Nelson gives an astonishing performance, as he insults everyone throughout the film. He’s the bad seed, the criminal, but he’s painfully cool. Brian “the brain” Johnson is all the opposite. He’s a geek, and he’s played by Anthony Michael Hall, who’s familiar with dork roles (he also plays a geek in “Sixteen Candles” and “Weird Science”). I love the way he treats a geek role. He has annoying habits, but you see that, like Hughes puts it, he’s “a guy who has everything going for himself, but he’s just too young.” Exactly. Another funny performance is Ally Sheedy‘s as Allison, an insecure neurotic who hides behind her hair and her clothes. She’s so weird!
More conventional characters are the prom queen, Claire, and the popular jock, Andrew. Still, these characters are memorable because they’re more than what they usually show. Emilio Estevez‘ character doesn’t even want to be a wrestling champion, but he’s crushed by pressure from his macho father. Molly Ringwald might be everyone’s idea of a perfect girl, but she still has problems. Both performances are true and moving. The only other major character is the teacher who’s supposed to watch detention, but Paul Gleason‘s presence ain’t really striking.
“The Breakfast Club” is a definite masterpiece. It’s without any doubts one of the best high school film ever made. It’s extremely insightful, and pure fun all the way. There might be better movies, but few are as true to their subject as this one.