Anyone that was a teenager when they saw John Hughes’ masterwork for the first time in 1985 is now facing a midlife crisis of some sort. If that applies to you then you may be eager to revisit The Breakfast Club at its thirtieth birthday.
Though it is a product of the 80s in many ways, possibly the quintessential movie of that era alongside Back to the Future and E.T, in many other ways the Breakfast Club is as ageless as any film can possibly be. The comedy drama was famously written by Hughes over just two days and while each character could be seen to represent more of an archetype, that may be its strongest asset. When watching it recently I realised that rather than represent an individual, each character could simply represent a group that must interact and accept the existence of the others. You also need to remember that the whole point of this film is that each character, though vastly different, experiences the same turmoil and heartache. The problems they face, issues they tackle and emotions that run high are all part of that basic and maddeningly complicated teen experience.
What starts out as a playful interaction between these different teens turns into a deeper narrative that’s structured so expertly. An example is Brian the brain, the one that is stamped on and put down repeatedly throughout the story, when Andy and Bender get into a heated argument, Brian tries to remain neutral only to be told by both parties to shut up, when he assists the principle in counting the number of detentions he hands out once again Brian is dismissed. He is left to last to reveal his secret, his trauma. Other characters include parental hatred, abuse, compulsive lying, peer pressure. But Brian’s secret of having attempted suicide is left to last. He’s the character that is neglected by everyone, and in the end, when he reveals what Vernon found in his locker that made him get a detention, and the look that the others exchange, says it all. The drama and brilliance of this story are summed up in one, gut wrenching and heartfelt moment.
The characters are so well written because none of them are perfect. Bender may appear to be a wise rebel, but we find out he’s completely hypocritical. The perspective they take of the principle (not quite the bad guy he may have appeared to be when you watched the film as a teenager) demonstrates the film’s ability to connect and understand its audience. In fact it would be safe to say that no film has ever understood its audience as well as John Hughes has here.
Though it may sound dramatic, there’s those wonderful moments of humour and the way that they blend so seamlessly from heavy moments (what, heavy is an expression from the 80s). The fact that there’s even some remarkably absurd moments like that dance montage and somehow Andy is able to shatter a glass window with his voice following a hyper induced series of backflips. Why, maybe because he’s a teenager and he feels good, so he feels invincible and from this perspective he is.
It’s difficult to make an argument that any other film really knows and captures what it’s like to be a teenager. To be honest, any other argument would be for another Hughes film such as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. Decades on these themes are still ringing true and are still affecting millions today. There will always be teenagers, and that’s why the Breakfast Club will always be needed.