John Hughes Movies: Then and Now – The Breakfast Club

Hey Everybody, it’s time for another installment of Robert’s series John Hughes Movies: Then and Now. Today, he is covering one of the ultimate ’80s movies – The Breakfast Club. Personally, The Breakfast Club is one of those movies that I stop to watch if I’m flipping through the channels, and watch it the rest of the way through, even though I already know this movie pretty much by heart. Send us your thoughts about this movie, by emailing us at Returnto80s@gmail.com. Now, let’s see what Robert has to say about this classic movie.

The Breakfast Club: A Play Disguised as a Movie

by Robert Mishou

I am ready for the second installment of my (re)look at John Hughes’s Big Five films; next up, The Breakfast Club. This is another film that I had to wait for a VHS copy to watch. In 1985 I was not quite old enough to see a Rated R film in a theater, so I was forced to impatiently wait until I acquired a copy.

THEN:

I clearly remember watching The Breakfast Club many, many, many times – and liking it more with each viewing. I also clearly remember my two best friends loving this movies as well. As fate and timing would have it, those two best friends and I were together last week. They drove from Louisville to Nebraska to attend the wedding of my oldest son. The younger of my friends, Marvin (who is kind enough to read all of these posts) was reading the Sixteen Candles article and we started talking about all of the Hughes films. We quickly got to The Breakfast Club, and he told me it was his favorite and that he has probably watched it over one hundred times! So saying, I have decided to “include” him in my reflections.

There was nothing about this movie that Marvin did not like. I do not need to say much more because he really does absolutely love it. He can recall and quote any line – I mean, any line. As we were watching it again on the Sunday after the wedding, he was whispering the lines as the characters were saying them. Color me impressed. I, too, really liked The Breakfast Club when I was in high school. I was drawn in by the characters. I found that I could relate to something in each of them. While I was not a complete jock, brain, criminal, princess, or basket case, each one of these characters said or felt something that I too felt or wanted to say. The Breakfast Club only strengthened my belief that Hughes was making movies with characters that truly represented what teenagers were thinking, feeling, and experiencing at the time. Because The Breakfast Club had a different tone and feel to it when compared to Sixteen Candles, in 1985, I liked The Breakfast Club more.

NOW:

“You couldn’t ignore me if you tried.” This is one of the criminal’s, John Bender, many great lines in The Breakfast Club. This lines also represents the way I feel about this movie after watching several times over the last week. Watching this film in my (almost) forty-seven year old mind and body, I found that I could not pull my eyes or attention away from it. That does happen with other movies, but it is usually for nostalgic reasons. That is not the case here. I was completely drawn into each of the characters as individuals. I did have a bit of the ‘wishing I was back in high school’, but I found that I was compelled by each of these students’ backgrounds, reason for being in Saturday school, and home lives. I still could relate to pieces of each of them, but not one complete character. I also donned my teacher classes and thought about students I have had in my twenty-four years of being a high school English teacher; man did Mr. Vernon make some serious mistakes. I know this is only the second Hughes film that I am reexamining, but I think this is his best one. The Breakfast Club is a mature look at five high schoolers by a writer/director who has a keen sense of what is is like to be a teeneger and all of the struggles that they go through. It is an unflinching examination that is a bit comedic, but has a clear sense of character and drama.

The first thing that jumped out at me during my recent viewings is that The Breakfast Club is a play. It has all of the conventions that most plays do and would fit perfectly on a stage. The film is bookended in the parking lot where parents drop off and pick up their students. The rest of the film takes place inside of Shermer High School, mostly in the library. There are a few subsettings such as the hallways and a small room where Bender is kept as punishment, but these serve only to add a little variety. The library itself is also broken into several sub settings to help a too limited set. The conflict is simple and there is not much actual action in this movie, which serves to provide the real focus – that of characterization. The conflict is a clear one; five high school students are serving a Saturday detention at their school for a variety of misbehaviors. Nearly all of the action consists of the students talking, arguing, and laughing their way through a boring day while revealing and discovering things about themselves and each other. Honestly, nothing really ‘happens.’ The movie consists of a series of conversations among the five with an occasional diversion being supplied by two adults in the building, Mr. Vernon, who is in charge of the detention, and Carl, a custodian. This film would fit perfectly on a stage and it’s true strength comes from the round, dynamic characters and the insights Hughes offers about teenagers.

With the setting being very limited, Hughes is able to put complete focus on developing the five main characters: the jock, Andy; the princess, Claire; the brain, Brian; the basket case, Allison; and the criminal, Bender. I was completely wrapped up in all five of these characters and found myself completely wrapped up in each. All five come into the detention with their own selfish understanding of their world and leave with a better understand of themselves and some of those around them. Since the focus of Hughes’ classic is characterization, I will spend a little time showing how each begins as a non descript stereotype and ends a fully developed, round character who elicits our sympathies and reflects, in some respects, what we (once) were.

The jock, Andy: He begins as the stereotypical athlete who is more concerned about his sport, in this case wrestling, than he is about school or other non athletes. He has received his detention for tapeing together the butt cheeks of another student in school; the tape ripped off the boy’s hair and some skin. The reason Andy gives for committing this belittling offense is that he wants to impress his father, who did these sort of things when he was in high school. Yes, Andy did it, but his greater fault is caving into the expectations of those around him and trying to please his father who is putting undo pressure on him to get a wrestling scholarship. Over the course of the movie, we see how much Andy regrets hurting and embarrassing this boy. He shows true growth by having compassion for fellow Saturday schoolers, Allison. Andy begins his detention experience with threats, jokes, and disdain for those not like him and ends as a compassionate athlete who seems to respect those clearly different than himself.

The princess, Claire: She begins as the stereotypical spoiled girl who is pretty, rich, and usually gets what she wants. She has received her detention for skipping school to go shopping. I do not think she sees too much wrong with doing this, and she clearly admits to playing her parents against each other for her own selfish benefit. She is pretty and dresses well, but does suffer from her own pressure of feeling obliged to do what her friends want her do and think as they think. Her major foil and adversary is Bender who continually calls her on her clothes, money, and even her lunch (sushi). I like her character because she fully admits that there are clear groups in school and that they cannot openly mix. In a tense scene, she even tells Brian that she will probably not talk to him in the halls on Monday. As hurtful as that is, she does have a firm hold on the expectations that are placed on all of them. She does grow and change a bit. She learns to defend herself (verbally) against Bender and the others and, while working hard to justify her behaviors, She also learns to understand the point of view of others and even accepts Bender as the intriguing bad boy – although it may be only to irritate her parents.

The brain, Brian: He is the stereotypical geek who is a concerned student who wants to do well in school. He has received detention for bringing a gun to school. Yes, it was a flare gun, but . . . Brain is contemplating suicide because he failed an assignment in shop class and it will hurt his GPA. He is a scared, physically weak, but intelligent character who learns to speak his mind and confront the others about their beliefs. I am not sure he is able to fully accept his failure, but he gains confidence and leaves the library with a better awareness of the pressures he is subject to.

The basket case, Allison: She is the stereotypical strange girl who struggles fitting into any group. She is a kleptomaniac and a compulsive liar who serves to challenges the others and get them to admit some things that are unwilling to. She admits to being alienated from her parents and had even volunteered to be at Saturday school! She and Claire become friends and she even allows Claire to give her a makeover. This alone shows her growth; she has never been accepted by others because she has not truly accepted others.

The criminal, Bender: I see him as the true protagonist of this film. While nearly equal time is spend on all five of the characters, most of the action is push forward by him. He comes from the toughest of homes. While Allison feels ignored by her parents, Bender is verbally and physically abused by his father. Bender uses sarcasm to hide his own fears; he criticises what he cannot have or what he cannot be. He pushes Mr. Vernon by getting into power struggles with him, with bad language, by sneaking out of the library, and with a complete lack of respect for authority of any kind. Despite believing that he has nothing in common with the others, “I don’t even speak your language,” he willing sacrifices himself when the five are going to get caught wandering the hallways. Bender has a clear soft side when he subtly reveals that he wants to be accepted by the others. He is honest, confrontational, and a bit dangerous, but he is loyal and we are left with a sense that he will look out for the others in the future.

The true strength of this film lies in this characterization. Hughes does not allow himself to create flat characters in The Breakfast Club. Instead he digs in and shows what teens struggle with. All five of these teens are real – real people dealing with real pressures and really learning how to get along with others in the world they are about to be thrust into. I feel very comfortable in calling The Breakfast Club a classic. It is not a classic of just the teen movie genre. John Hughes has pushed the boundaries of the typical, safe and, at times, vulgar teen film. By doing so he has created a truly classic film that will never fully leave my conscious.

Marvin STILL loves it.

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