Remember the movie The Breakfast Club? Released 30 years ago (February 15, 1985), it ushered in the era of the “Brat Pack,” the generation of actors who were the top of the hip Hollywood of the 1980’s. Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez were its teenage stars and John Hughes, who wrote and directed what many consider his best movie, cemented his place in cinema.
Oh, I don’t know, as good as it is, when you look at his credits there are a few chestnuts in there, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one of the greatest films of all time! Who doesn’t want to be Ferris Bueller? If you weren’t a wisenheimer before seeing Ferris Bueller, you aspired to be one — at least just a little.
Ben Stein in one of the iconic moments of the film: “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”
So, John Hughes has a string of hit films to his credit, the two best being The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Sadly, John Hughes departed this Mortal Coil August 6, 2009, but he left behind a legacy that won’t be forgotten.
It’s been decades since last watching The Breakfast Club, mainly because I hate watching good movies that have been censored for television and then interrupted for commercial messages. Recently it came on one of the HBO channels, uncut and uncensored.
The buzz about the film at the time was that it was the coming of age film to define the era of the Brat Pack: A different style of dress, a different kind of music and a new attitude.
Every generation has their coming of age film that gives them definition: American Graffiti, Easy Rider, Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause to name just four that I’ve seen. Then there’s Animal House, which seems to speak to every generation of college students.
And who can forget American Pie? There’s another coming of age classic. Can’t count any of the sequels though, none of them measure up to the joy and beauty of that first film. Is it merely coincidence it was released the same year (1999) as The Matrix?
What’s so special about The Breakfast Club? Well, for one thing it speaks to every generation as it comes of age. If you read the message boards for the movie on imdb.com there are comments and reviews from people who weren’t even born when it was first released in 1985, yet it still resonates with the generation that first saw it 26 years ago.
Most from my generation, the one that came of age ten years earlier, liked it because it spoke to the disparity between the different castes common in most high schools, especially public high schools. The big deal about the message of the film was not just the different castes, but how that disparity was approached: from the view that all five characters felt trapped by the roles they had to play to be members of their particular cliques.
The film took stereotypes, made them almost unbearably exaggerated and then deconstructed them for a feel-good moment at the end when all five students walk out of the school as a team, as opposed to the beginning of the film when they walk into the school one at a time.
To refresh your memory: there is the pretty and popular socialite girl (Molly Ringwald), the popular jock (Emilio Estevez), the nerd (Anthony Michael Hall) the goofy girl (Ally Sheedy) and the Bad Boy Criminal (Judd Nelson).
The stereotypes that get left out of this film says a lot about the filmmaker and us, as a society. No gay characters, no stoners and the average student who doesn’t aspire to be in any clique and just does their best to graduate and hopefully go to college or get a good paying job. Just like in real, adult life, the silent majority is rarely noticed. Those people are just as filled with teenage angst as the characters in the film. Deep down though, these five characters turned out to be just average high school teens trying to make it to graduation.
I really didn’t identify with any of the characters, although part of me wanted to be the bad boy, John Bender. Bad boys are always portrayed as the coolest and pretty girls always seem to like bad boys best. Jocks always get the prettiest girls because they are the sports heroes. Few girls like nerds, until they grow up to be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
All the boys want to be with the most popular girls, but avoid like the plague the weird girls, until they become models or hot and sexy actresses.
And that is the core of The Breakfast Club. The angst we endure while in high school. For most people, the pain of that awkward time in life remains with us forever. Boys — men — for instance, can understand a character like Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) in American Pie trying to masturbate with a warm apple pie because we all did something ridiculous in an effort to have an orgasm. As we get older we refine our techniques.
In the age of the Internets and some of the finest in synthetic materials, we get all kinds of aids to jack-off and some really life-like (I’m told) devices in which to do it. A man almost doesn’t need a real woman anymore. And we sure as Hell don’t need to use the vacuum cleaner anymore … not that I ever did …
With The Breakfast Club, we can understand the inner pain of feeling like we don’t fit in, no matter how much we appear to fit in with whatever clique, or no clique, we belong, whether we knowingly join that group or get dumped in it by everyone else.
As some might guess, I was one of the “stoners” in high school, one of the “hippies.” But I secretly wanted to be one of the people who smiled everyday without being high. When I was in the school play I met some of them and they were really nice people.
But just like The Breakfast Club suggests, on Monday we — I — went right back to that comfort zone where we knew the rules and the role we played in our little clique, where our silent desires, fears and resentments took over just like they did every day in school. The Breakfast Club puts all that out there for us, better than any movie has before or since.
Now, nearly 40 years removed from high school, it brings out yet another angst-filled moment with the most useless, but most often asked question to ourselves: “If I could go back and do it over again …” There’s no point to asking “What if,” other than to fill our hearts and minds with regret.
What’s done is done and the best we can do is accept it. if we can make restitution to those we have harmed, then we can do that. One of the moments in the film that struck me was when the jock, Andrew, recounted how he had humiliated a smaller, weaker student, all in an effort to impress his jock friends, and more importantly, his dad. Many of us have little skeletons like that in our closets and they creep out to haunt us from time-to-time.
So, it’s time to move on. The Breakfast Club is a great film, quite entertaining, over the top at times — like when they’re dancing throughout the library — but one I might watch again in another ten years, just to remind myself I was a teenager in high school once, a long time ago.
We’ll never be as cool as we were that senior year in high school.
Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the elected government officials and business were so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that.