Movies & TV / Columns

Dissecting the Classics – The Breakfast Club

August 26, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
The Breakfast Club

When I first started tossing around the idea for doing this column, I made a shortlist of films I wanted to cover. This is one of those movies, a movie that was formative in my life as a movie lover and a pretty major cultural touchstone. With most the schools in my area reopening their doors this week, I felt it was appropriate to tackle what is, in my opinion, the best high school drama ever made.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics , the column previously known as Taken For Granted. In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

The Breakfast Club

Wide Release Date: February 15, 1985
Written and Directed By: John Hughes
Produced By: Ned Tanen and John Hughes
Cinematography By: Thomas Del Ruth
Edited By: Dede Allen
Music By: Keith Forsey and Gary Chang
Production Company: A&M Films, Channel Productions
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Judd Nelson as John Bender
Molly Ringwald as Claire Standish
Emilio Estevez as Andy Clark
Ally Sheedy as Allison Reynolds
Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson
Paul Gleeson as Assistant Principal Vernon

What Do We All Know?

The Brain. The Princess. The Athlete. The Criminal. The Basketcase. The bizarre politics of high school’s Indian caste system is something I’m sure most people can relate to. Maybe you have fond memories, maybe you have regrets, or maybe you’re just glad you survived high school and try your best not to think about it. Whatever your experience, chances are John Hughes has made a film that captures at least some element of what it was like. The man refined the high school drama like never before in the 1980s, and while many are classics, The Breakfast Club is his masterpiece.

Five kids are stuck in Saturday detention for various things they did wrong. They are from different social groups and normally wouldn’t interact with each other. But faced with either terrible boredom or awkward social interaction, they get to know each other. Their differences and their surprising similarities are brought to light over ninety minutes and change. And there’s a douchebag principal who really is as bad as we imagined our teachers to be.

What Went Right?

The Breakfast Club is as simple as it gets; it puts five (sometimes six) compelling characters in a room and has them talk. The characters are all stock types by design, with the whole point of the film being that they are forced into their social identities by their parents and peers. Left to their own devices, they find that they all have unsatisfying home lives due to overbearing or neglectful parents, and despite their differences are able to bond over smoking weed, sharing their lives and lamenting how they may not be friends after their detention is over.

While none of the acting is exactly Oscar-worthy, all five actors make a good accounting of themselves. Judd Nelson has the loudest role, but he really excels in quieter moments when he shows how much he has come to care for his new friends. The rest all have their moments, with Ally Sheedy being my favorite of the bunch because of how much she embraces her role as a weirdo. Nobody is playing against type here, but that’s fine; these actors own these roles. For me, and for many others I suspect, this gang of kids is the reference point for their archetypes.

Now, I won’t lie; I was the perfect age to fall in love with The Breakfast Club when I saw it. But I’m not fifteen anymore, and it’s nice to know the film actually has more to offer as you grow up. The teenage angst is no longer my everyday reality, and if all seems a little more sad to remember what it was like to feel trapped in those feelings. Before, I looked up to them for expressing themselves. At my current age, I just want to give them a hug and tell them life gets better.

Another thing that changes with age is how I view the character of Assistant Principal Vernon. Somehow it was easy to see him as just a cartoon villain when I was a teen, but the scene where he gets Bender in a closet and threatens him with physical violence is disturbing. While his anger and frustration with youth is an understandable feeling, he ironically deals with his problems with far less maturity than the children in detention. It’s a pretty severe condemnation.

What Went Wrong?

Whenever I call a movie the best in its genre, it usually means they aren’t any major flaws. That rule holds true here. My only complaint about The Breakfast Club is that there isn’t more of it, or a sequel. I would have loved to see more of these characters as they graduated high school, or came back for a reunion. And oddly enough for a classic, I wouldn’t mind a remake or a retooling of this concept.

And In Summary…

The Breakfast Club is a rare high school movie that not only perfectly captures the feelings of actual teenagers, but holds up and even improves as you grow up and gain perspective. To me, it’s a must watch and a film I revisit every few years. If you haven’t seen it at all, you are missing out, but if you haven’t seen it in years it’s definitely worth revisiting.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker

Follow Me On Letterboxd!
I log reviews for every film I see, when I see them. You can see my main page here. I haven’t watched many movies lately due to watching The Defenders and Twin Peaks, but there’s plenty of reviews and lists to browse through.