The Breakfast Club (1985)

It’s hard to believe that a film made 30 years ago can still resonate as much today as The Breakfast Club does. It crosses generational and cultural lines, just as Hughes intended. Despite the film being a classic (and canonic) film, I didn’t watch The Breakfast Club for the first time until after college. I was much more interested in films with action sequences, sci-fi films, special effects, and just about every possible cinematic option other than a simple film that did nothing more than stick a few people together in a room.

When you boil it down to the bare bones, that’s the premise of The Breakfast Club. It’s a simple concept, not much different from a scientific experiment. Put a few people that seemingly have nothing in common together in a single room, force them to stay there, and then stand back to observe the results. We have stereotypical high school tropes at play in this film, with the various characters representing: a jock, a beauty, a brain, a recluse, and a rebel. That just about covers all the bases for the most part, while keeping the cast relatively small.

Released on February 15, 1985 at a breezy 97 minutes (as a result of forced studio cuts, Hughes had his own cut of the film running closer to 3 hours). The entire film has its dialogue moving along at a brisk clip, although there are obviously gaps in the dialogue for the thematic elements and brief action. It’s hard to think of another film in which so much gets said with so little action to break up the film into segments and to provide a breather from absorbing all the dialogue.

Back to the plot of the film – the kids have and don’t want to have anything in common. Yet, stuck together – they’re forced to bond and find out that they aren’t so different after all. They’re all human. And then they sing Kumbaya. Well, not really. But it’s somewhat close to that summary. The downside is that the adult characters (there are brief appearances by parents, and then there’s the janitor & principal) are very one-dimensional characters that don’t really matter and aren’t developed. The high notes are all played by the teenagers, creating a movie that appeals to teenagers and feels authentic. Then again, the actors and actresses were all superstars, with The Breakfast Club truly launching the careers of many of the “Brat-Packers”.

The Breakfast Club is often considered the seminal high school movie (Entertainment Weekly called it the best high school movie of all time), and is also one of the core films for the “Brat Pack”. There were a number of films in the 1980s that all featured members of the “Brat Pack”, whose talent helped elevate these films beyond what they could have been. The first film in this so-called oeuvre was The Outsiders (1983), running through to Hail Caesar (1994), after which the careers of most of the Brat Packers had been obliterated due to various factors (drugs, alcohol, sex tape, or others). The other essential Brat Pack film was also another 1985 movie, St. Elmo’s Fire. To be a core Brat Packer, you had to appear in one or both of these films. Thus, the brief list of those that made the cut are:

  • Emilio Estevez (Andrew Clark, The Jock – The Breakfast Club, Kirby Keger – St. Elmo’s Fire)
  • Anthony Michael Hall (Brian Johnson, The Brain – The Breakfast Club)
  • Judd Nelson (John Bender, The Rebel – The Breakfast Club, Alec Newbury – St. Elmo’s Fire)
  • Molly Ringwald (Claire Standish, The Beauty – The Breakfast Club)
  • Ally Sheedy (Allison Reynolds, The Recluse – The Breakfast Club, Leslie Hunter – St. Elmo’s Fire)
  • Rob Lowe (Billy Hicks – St. Elmo’s Fire)
  • Andrew McCarthy (Kevin Dolenz – St. Elmo’s Fire)
  • Demi Moore (Jules Van Patten – St. Elmo’s Fire)

As you can clearly see, Estevez, Nelson, and Sheedy pulled double duty in 1985. That isn’t to say that the others didn’t also appear in other films. At a minimum, a Brat Pack film has two or more of the core members appearing in it. Prior to The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald had memorable turns in Sixteen Candles (1984), the only film in which any of the five members had worked together previously on. The chemistry between all five cast members is incredible, which only serves to accentuate either the talent on display or the fortuitous meeting of the stars to cast five disparate people that fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Being released in 1985, the midpoint of a decade – The Breakfast Club also acts as a time capsule of the 1980s. A generational touchstone in the form of a common bildungsroman that was representative of their shared experiences of the decade. You could describe the film as a socially apathetic, cynical, and ideologically barren look at the angsty expeeriences of a white middle-class teenager. And yet my reaction to that succinct description is, “Nailed it.”

If you’re making a list of the greatest pop-culture movies to ever be made, The Breakfast Club belongs squarely on that list. An edited version is still in constant syndication on television today, which has helped contribute to the film’s massive popularity and its “Q-score” in society today. There aren’t very many holdouts today like I once was to its pervasive reach in pop culture. There are films that directly reference The Breakfast Club both by name and allusion, such as Easy A (2010) and Pitch Perfect (2011). That kind of lasting reach can’t be overstated.

With The Breakfast Club‘s enduring importance ensured, I can admit that it took me a few viewings before I truly appreciated the film and enjoyed it. It’s understated at times, and yet blatantly obvious at other times. It’s predictable, which is both its strength and downfall, depending on your viewpoint. At least it’s not saccharine.

It doesn’t matter how you view the film – even the edited version on television is good enough. There isn’t anything truly important cut from the film, even though fans and purists may be shocked at this statement. It’s not a film that you catalog and analyze scene by scene. This is a film you sit back and enjoy. Let John Hughes take you back to the 1980s.

MPAA Rating: R
Cinematically Rating:

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