Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is better than anything else the late John Hughes made, in my opinion, but the rest of his output as writer and/or director is peppered with films that are worth the occasional repeat viewing. Take The Breakfast Club for example: a typical mid-1980s teen dramedy dated by its clothes, haircuts, Simple Minds theme song and reliance on once-popular Brat Pack actors, it actually holds up fairly well today because of the simplicity of its conceit, and also thanks to the winning ensemble performance of its mainly young cast.
In case your memory needs jogging, it’s Saturday morning in Michigan and we’re watching an extended detention: five teenagers are thrown together in the same room because of unseen prior indiscretions, while Paul Gleason’s grumpy teacher oversees the punishment. Judd Nelson is the mouthy rebel Bender, who demands most of your attention as he locks horns with Emilio Estevez’s jock Andrew, while Molly Ringwald’s pristine ‘princess’ Claire is usually on the receiving end of Bender’s insults. Anthony Michael Hall’s geeky ‘brain’ Brian watches from the sidelines and Ally Sheedy’s oddball recluse Allison sits at the back eating cereal sandwiches.
These kids are well aware of their supposed differences and each has a sense of where they fit, or where they are supposed to fit, into the various high school cliques and pecking orders. Hughes concentrates on their mutual mistrust at first, before the characters gradually open up to one another and realise collectively that they do in fact have plenty in common: each is unhappy at home because of parental issues that vary in terms of severity, while their individual personas mask shared pressures and insecurities. Their opinions of each other gradually change over the course of the eight hour detention, while the time is also filled with crying, dancing, makeovers, pot smoking and general teen kerrrrrazy-ness.
Hughes’s characters are memorable, and even though actors like John Cusack, Nicolas Cage and Rick Moranis were overlooked, each part was cast successfully. Amusingly three of those involved – Nelson, Estevez and Sheedy – played university students in St. Elmo’s Fire, the other most famous Brat Pack movie, which was released in the same year; as such it’s a stretch to accept one or two of them as being young enough to be attending high school, though it certainly isn’t an insurmountable problem. Nelson and Sheedy stand out, probably because they get to play the most interesting characters, while Gleason’s performance as the grumpy teacher is another to be enjoyed. His assistant principal Vernon represents the writer’s clear misgivings about the ability of adults to relate to teenagers: he is deeply unhappy because of his job, and he takes it out on the younger characters as a result, failing to identify with or understand them.
The writer-director’s script is packed with believable dialogue, and his historical importance in terms of changing the way (white American) teens were portrayed by Hollywood should not be understated: prior to Sixteen Candles, Hughes’s 1984 debut as director, teenagers were generally being portrayed as sex-mad idiots or mindless fodder for horror villains. The Michigan native, along with Cameron Crowe (who wrote the earlier script for Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High) gave them a new, modern voice and The Breakfast Club, arguably more than any other film, was successful in bringing typical concerns to the big screen. It has arguably become a little overrated in the years since its release but it still makes for a fine, low-key counterpoint to the more energetic teen-centric films of the same year (The Goonies, Back To The Future), while the oft-seen ‘relationships between characters locked in a room gradually change’ plot (12 Angry Men, Reservoir Dogs, Rope, Tape, etc.) is given a fresh spin.
Directed by: John Hughes.
Written by: John Hughes.
Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Gleason.
Cinematography: Thomas Del Ruth.
Editing: Dede Allen.
Music: Keith Forsey, Various.
Running Time: 97 minutes.