I woke up this morning, and what did I see?
“The Breakfast Club” was on my TV.
I promise, I won’t expose you to my poetry often, it’s just that sometimes I have something really insightful that I feel will benefit or illuminate everyone, as in the case above.
True story though, pulled up the tv tray, pouring me some cereal and there it was. “The Breakfast Club”. On a premium channel no less, so no commercials. Are you gonna NOT switch to that?? Of course you’re gonna. Plus – I’m eating breakfast, how ironic! So I’m watching it, it’s a little way in, and I guess my newfound perspective as a blogger has me watching it a little more closely than usual.
And you know what? It’s great. I mean, that movie is just great. So so awesome. I felt like I was watching it with fresh eyes, and the greatness of it really just struck me hard.
I know, I know. NEWSFLASH! Right? But, you know, there are people out there who haven’t seen these things, folks! I spent a lot of time this weekend checking out other people’s blogs and… it’s a younger generation out there. There was one kid who said “Jaws” was boring. Man, these movies are getting OLD now. We have to protect these flicks, keep them alive, in the discussion. That’s up to us!
So. Seeing as I was looking for excuses to write-up older movies anyways, I decided I would write this series about Movies That Everyone Should See. If you want to call yourself a film fan, and you haven’t seen one of these flicks, my opinion of you loses points. If you’re a casual viewer and you haven’t watched them, what the hell are you waiting for. These will be the no brainer, mortal lock, absolute shoo-in, first ballot hall of fame type movies that there’s absolutely no excuse for not having seen.
Let’s start here. The Breakfast Club.
The year is 1985. Right smack in the middle of the 1980s. Reagan is President in a second term. The cold war is still on. The Berlin Wall is still up. “We are the World” is released and Live Aid happens. Coke releases New Coke. “The Cosby Show” is the most popular show on television.
Into the mix is a young (34) director named John Hughes, who at this point in time, isn’t really “John Hughes” yet. He’s only got one movie to his credit as a director to this point, “Sixteen Candles”.
For those reading who honestly haven’t seen it (seriously, you’re picking it up this week, right?) “The Breakfast Club” is the story of five high schoolers who are forced to serve detention on a Saturday. The five are seated in the school library and watched over by their angry principal, Richard Vernon (played by Paul Gleason). Vernon assigns them an essay to write, then heads back to his office, occasionally spot-checking back in on them but otherwise leaving the teens to themselves.
“You’re mine, Bender. For two months, I gotcha. I gotcha.”
The teens begin the day with nothing in common, as each of them come from distinctly different places in the High School strata. But the five bicker, banter, battle and bond and before the day is out, friendships and romances have formed. For a movie that is essentially five actors on a single set with no action and no clear antagonist, this film does an incredible job of engrossing the viewer. How? By setting up clearly defined obstacles to friendship between the individuals, and then slowly breaking them down. It’s like a high school version of “12 Angry Men”. At the beginning, each is set in their ways and opinions, but as the day progresses, the interchanges between them force reconsideration of their positions. Eventually, once the barriers have been broken and the teens have accepted that they can relate to each other after all, the common struggle that they’ve shared to arrive at that point leaves them with a strong bond. They wind up sharing amongst each other in an open and honest environment, revealing feelings and fears that they obviously would have never shared otherwise.
A nerd, a jock, a thug, a weirdo and a princess all shrug off their preconceived notions and respective self images, and for one day at least, become close friends. It’s an amazing thing to behold.
The dialogue in this movie is incredible. Absolutely incredible. The movie’s runtime is listed at 97 minutes. Within that 97 minutes, you could select a random timestamp anywhere you want, and I’ll bet within thirty seconds of playing from that point in the movie you’ll come across a line of dialogue that’s worthy of being someone’s sig line, or a blog’s tagline, or someone’s personal credo in life. I wondered at one point how Hughes was writing such fantastic, authentic teen dialogue when it hit me. He’s not writing for teens, he’s writing about teens. There’s no slang really, they’re not overly abusing teen 80’s speak (trust me, I was there). Sure you’ll come across a “dweeb” or “wastoid” now and then and lots of “totally”s, but essentially the reason we buy into these character’s conversations is what they’re talking about, not how they’re talking.
And what they’re talking about is universal. I don’t care if you went to high school twenty years ago, now, or twenty years from now. These are issues that existed then, exist now, and will probably exist forever. Bullying, parental pressures, abusive parents, neglectful parents, social stigmatism, cliques, sex, drugs, self-image, teachers… there’s more, too… has any of this stuff changed an iota since 1985? Since 1955? Aren’t there still Benders and Claires out there today? Think the Andrews of the world are talking to the Brians of the world in today’s high school? No. But they did when like, your parents were young, right? Hell no. And that’s one of the elements that lends to the greatness of this film. Everyone experienced this. We all went through it. It should strike a chord with EVERYONE.
Over time, the majority of the credit for this movie has gone to John Hughes. Writer/Director, of course, right? What I’m saying here though is I think this cast gets shortchanged. You almost never hear about how incredible their performances were. Maybe because they were young people playing young people it’s easy to overlook what they did. Perhaps, retroactively, due to the fact that none of them really went on to mega success as adults we write off what they did here, when they were younger. Regardless, each of the five of them turn in exceptional, memorable, praise-worthy performances. Judd Nelson’s John Bender is a character for the ages! How does the actor behind that not get mega-props? Ally Sheedy adds so much to this flick, comedically. Watching it again today, she’s hysterical. In the early part of the movie she doesn’t talk, so her contribution is silent reactions and her timing is great. When she finally opens up, she sells her character’s weirdness by being goofy and off-beat. How about Anthony Michael Hall? It may not be much of a stretch to see him playing a bookworm geek, but he sells it sooo completely. How about when he asks if they’ll all still be friends on Monday? You’re not seeing a little of his soul there? C’mon. Even Emilio gets his moment in the sun. His confession about the bullying incident that landed him in detention will probably never be put alongside Quint’s “Indianapolis” monologue, but it was a first-rate bit of acting, and very moving.
And then there’s America’s Sweetheart, Molly Ringwald.
In the 1980s, America was openly in love with Molly Ringwald. She appeared here, in “Sixteen Candles”, and “Pretty in Pink” and by the time they had all released, she could have enrolled in any high school in America and been elected prom queen that very day. She was beautiful but not threatening, and an incredible actress. Her performances were fearless… I mean… Ok, let me put it this way. It’s HER roles that convinced me that teenaged girls are so self-conscious and vulnerable that AS a teenaged actress, I give her enormous credit for being fearless and bold in her performances and letting the audiences SEE her self-consciousness and vulnerability. It’s a mind-blowing, self-perpetuating, closed circuit of a compliment, but there it is. LOL.
In addition to its dramatic calibre, “The Breakfast Club” is also a very decent comedy. I mean, that’s actually where you’ll find it categorized – in the comedy section. There’s plenty of jokes at each others expense as the characters rag on each other, and it’s really funny watching Bender square off with Vernon at times. Scatter in a couple of musical montages and dance numbers, and the result is a beautiful, perfect counter-balance to what otherwise could have wound up a serious, weighty flick.
In the end, the writing, the acting and the exploration of universal themes make this movie a movie for the ages. The only thing that’s ever going to go stale about it are the clothes and maybe some of the music. I used to nitpick that Emilio acts like he shot amphetamines instead of smoking marijuana, but that’s like ten seconds in a 90 minute movie. I also used to complain that the Claire/Bender romance was tacked on. But I’ve come to accept it because without it we’d have never had the exchange below:
Bender: Remember how you said your parents use you to get back at each other?
Bender: Wouldn’t I be OUTSTANDING in that capacity?
So now I love this movie wholeheartedly, without exception. It resonated with my generation like no other film except maybe for “Star Wars”. It’s a film that I feel that there’s no excuse for not having seen aside from age. Let’s say…. children below the age of 14 or so are exempt. Other than that, this is a masterpiece that HAS to be a part of everyone’s “Movies I’ve Watched” list.
It’s undeniably a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.