Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Stars: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy
Released: 15 February 1985
No spoilers to be found here!
A movie that takes place almost entirely in one location, with little else to offer except for a few young actors and actresses and a fairly unknown director who wrote the screenplay on a weekend. This doesn’t sound like something special, at least it didn’t to me when I stumbled into the DVD. But little did I know this would not only become one of the best coming-of-age movies I have ever seen, but one of my favorite movies of all time.
On March 24 1984, a Saturday, five students turn up at 07.00 am for detention in the Shermer High School. They all belong to different stereotypes and don’t know each other very well. Brian the brain, Andrew the athlete, Allison the basket case, Claire the princess and John the criminal. They are instructed by assistant principal Richard Vernon (played by the late Paul Gleason) to spend the entire day in silence, writing an assay consisting of at least a thousand words describing who they think they are.
It sounds like a very simple premise, but this is one of these rare movies where writing, acting and directing comes together and creates something marvelous. Every person starts out exactly the way they are described, Brian is nerdy and awkward, Allison is quiet and weird etc. As this Saturday goes on and these wildly different kids starts to interact more and more your perception of them starts to expand and the stereotypes start to break down. Everybody who has ever been in High School will be able to relate to at least one of these characters (team Brian here) and witnessing the beautiful deconstruction of each and every one of them and the reveal of their deepest inner feelings is something that will probably be an emotional moment for many people. It shows you that labeling people will not change who they are deep inside, and that everybody goes through similar hardships during their teen years, even thought it might not seem like it. This is the brilliance of John Hughes’ screenplay.
Right beside the screenplay, the acting of The Breakfast Club is one of the most important aspects of the movie. This is very much an actor’s film, the location isn’t the most diverse and the story is very simple. This means that the movie relies heavily on it’s characters and actors, and The Breakfast Club delivers in spades. Every single actor or actress fits perfectly with their character, so much so that you believe that the teens were playing themselves. The team followed the script well enough, but all actors added some small touches of themselves into their characters which makes them seem a bit more real. Ally Sheedy herself has said that she pretty much was Allison in High School and had therefore an easy time slipping into the character. Throughout the movie you can feel the chemistry between the leads and that everybody involved probably had a great time during production. These are some of the most genuine characters ever created and the actors ought to be applauded.
But the greatest strength of The Breakfast Club is John Hughes as a writer and director. He put this fantastic screenplay together (first draft written in a weekend no less), hired the most suitable of actors and then let them act. Three weeks before principal photography, he had the cast start to rehearse their roles in order to deliver more natural performances. When the film started shooting, he could at times throw the script away and just tell the crew to improvise. To be able to give your actors so much free rein shows Hughes’ trust in these youths. He knew who he worked with and managed to capture the essence of a screenplay he wrote with actors with a lot of different ideas on how do things. He then managed to take these ideas into consideration and in the end create a coherent whole. This perfectly exemplifies the greatness of John Hughes, the director.
I have read some reviews of the movie stating that the characters are a bit unoriginal, and I do agree with that. You have all seen these kinds of characters before, even when they are expanded a bit later on. But to me, this hasn’t really been a problem. Sure, they are characters that we have seen before, but isn’t this really the point of the movie? Showing us that these labels doesn’t define who you are and that we all share similar plights. Imagine if all of these characters would have some wholly original problems, it would be harder to relate to them since we can’t put ourselves in those situations. In my opinion it would lesser the impact of the movie, and the acting from everybody involved makes all the characters fresh and memorable, even if you have seen similar ones before.
Assistant principal Richard Vernon supervises the teens throughout the day, and Paul Gleason plays the character with a very condescending demeanor. He is a stereotype of the angry teacher, and that balances out nicely with the stereotypical students. As the day progresses and he spends more time with the philosophical Carl the janitor (played by John Kapelos), you could argue that he also starts to change a bit, viewing these teens in a different light. However, where the screenplay portrayed the growth of the youths almost perfectly, I don’t think Richard was featured enough to gain from his supposed development. I call it a missed opportunity, as just one more scene could flesh out this character immensely, which would be a perfect parallel to the kids and their growth throughout the day. As it stands, Richard Vernon a well-written character, maybe a tad familiar. But Paul’s terrific performance combined with the few moments of reflection with the janitor tips over the scales and makes Richard Vernon a great character in his own right.
The mentioned Carl the janitor plays a minor part of the story, appearing once in a while to say some insightful comments. It doesn’t add much to the overall story, but I consider it a nice addition and John’s performance adds an extra intellectual side to this character. The movie rarely features him, which makes him more of a rare treat when he shows up and never overstays his welcome.
As The Breakfast Club celebrated it’s 30th anniversary early last year, people may think that such an old high school movie would have aged by now. Like I mentioned before, the script and the characters still work great and don’t feel dated at all. There are however a few things about this movie that makes it feel like an 80:s movie. First and foremost, the music. The movie uses several different catchy pop songs, as well as some accompanying montages that could be considered dated today. I personally like 80:s pop and I think the music and montages adds to a certain retro feeling to the movie. For many people, this aspect of the movie will age it a lot in their eyes, but to me it doesn’t feel aged, instead oddly fitting. These are old tracks yes, but the music is very upbeat and energetic, witch blends very well with the characters and their youthful energy. The music scenes don’t add a whole lot to the overall plot, but works well when breaking up the more dramatic parts of the movie so your brain can rest for a bit. This is very subjective, but I do think the music and montages of The Breakfast Club makes it a better film.
But aside from the music, there are some aspects of the movie I would consider aged. When a character becomes very emotional, they sometimes add sound effects, an attempt to amplify the emotion of the moment I am guessing. I don’t think this was needed at all and only retracts from the acting, which should be able to stand on it’s own. Later into the movie, Andrew enters a small room and screams out loud, shattering the glass in the door. My guess is that it was added in order of comedy, but it doesn’t work as it is unrealistic and once again retracts from the acting. John Hughes as officially gone on record saying that the shattering glass was one of the biggest mistakes he made during production. But all of these small nitpicks are so rare and so short that they never become a major problem, just some small things that ages the movie a bit.
I said that I considered the screenplay amazing. Well, I do have some issues with the ending of the movie. The Breakfast Club tries so hard to set up the different character and make us care for them and their eventual development, and therefore I consider the ending a bit of a betrayal of at least one character. No spoilers here, but I do think this person’s actions during the last few minutes of the movie goes against the character and irritates me a bit, something that increases with multiple viewings. Another issue I have with the ending is how it resolves most of the characters in an unrealistic way. It’s not completely unbelievable , but it does also feel like it was written that way in order to make the ending a bit happier, sacrificing some much needed realism in the process. I hate to say it, but these issues with the screenplay are noteworthy problems and makes me think lesser of the movie.
I have to admit, I have a very strong personal connection to this movie. I saw it in precisely the right time in my life and it has been in my thoughts ever since. There are very few movies that I can rewatch as many times as this one, and none of them makes me as happy as The Breakfast Club, during every single viewing. I think the screenplay is brilliant, touching on subjects that doesn’t get talked about enough in film. Even though it’s a more than 30 year old movie about teenagers, it hasn’t aged much at all. The acting from everybody involved is phenomenal, you can tell everybody had a blast doing this movie and all characters feel genuine and sincere. And in the heart of everything we have John Hughes, who wrote the script and managed to, despite working with multiple actors all wanting to change things, direct a coherent whole. Even though this is one of my personal favorite movies, I don’t consider it a masterpiece, as there are some issues with the script at times. Some small, others bigger. The movie does also feel a bit aged in certain areas, sometimes working for a retroactive charm, sometimes making it a silly old 80:s High School movie. My final word, everybody should watch The Breakfast Club, movie-lover or not. You have at some point gone through these problems in life, and this movie could give you a greater insight into these issues. I can not overstate the impact it has had on my life and nothing would make me happier if I convinced even one of you readers to go out of your way to watch The Breakfast Club.