“The Breakfast Club” Movie Review

Out of all of the shiny teen dramas or rom-coms from the wash of the 1980s, this one has arguably aged better than most of them. I’m still not entirely sure if that’s saying very much, but it just is what it is. This coming-of-age dramedy was originally released in theaters by Universal Pictures on February 15th, 1985. In spite of low expectations, it managed to gross over $51.5 million at the worldwide box office against a modest $1 million budget. It almost immediately received critical acclaim at the time of release and has been hailed as a classic of the genre in the years since. It also was re-opened in select theaters for its 30th anniversary back in 2015. Written and directed by John Hughes, the film was apparently intended to be his directorial debut. But after proving himself a capable screenwriter and garnering success for his work on Sixteen Candles, investors gave him the all-clear for a single location shoot. Numerous pre-stardom actors auditioned for various roles, including Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, and Jodie Foster. In additional trivia, the first draft of the film’s screenplay was missing for years until 2015, when it was discovered in the office cabinet of Maine South High School. Like many of his films, this one is set in a high school environment near Chicago city limits. Five students from different cliques- bad boy John Bender, popular girl Claire Standish, reclusive Allison Reynolds, star athlete Andrew Clark, and nerdy math wizard Brian Johnson -have all been assigned Saturday detention in the school library. Their strict and mean-spirited assistant principal Vernon wants them all to stay in their exact spots until the end of the day, ordering them to write a thousand-word essay about “who you think you are.” While the students initially seem so different from one another, as they talk and open up they realize they have far more in common than they would have believed. The Breakfast Club is one of those films where, even if you haven’t actually seen the film, you likely already know the general story. Whether it’s the iconic final shot on a football field or the immortal poster photo, it’s safe to say most people know what this film is about. Hell, even I knew a good chunk about it before watching it for the first time a few years ago. Almost everyone out there has a special teen-centric that they like to revisit for one reason or another. Maybe it’s because it’s simply a really good movie, or it could also be that it hits close to home for the viewer. For me, those movies are Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, and I frequently switch between which one I love more. But after this rewatch, I’m starting to think this one just barely pulls out. As mentioned in the intro, I genuinely believe that this film has aged a lot better than many of its contemporaries, even some of Hughes’ other works. There are no era-specific references no one understands, no outdated technology that laughable by today’s standards, no mention of brands that no longer exist. By confining the film to a single setting, we’re treated to seeing a group of what seem to be stereotypical high schoolers stripped down to their very cores. What’s especially affecting about The Breakfast Club is how honestly it’s told from the perspective of the kids. There’s no point in looking at the story from the AP’s point-of-view because all he sees are an athlete, a brain, a princess, a basket case, and a criminal. Placing the story almost entirely inside this library is a stroke of genius because while it’s dialogue heavy, there’s enough space for the characters to move around in and reveal something about themselves. Later to be called the “Brat Pack” for their appearances together in other films, the five central actors are nothing short of iconic. Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, and Anthony Michael Hall all play the respective roles as John Bender, Andrew Clark, Claire Standish, Allison Reynolds, and Brian Johnson so perfectly. Even though they were extremely young at the time and somewhat inexperienced, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in their roles. My favorite one has always been Sheedy because she stays silent for much of the first half before turning inside out in the second. Obviously, there are many who prefer Nelson’s pot-smoking bad boy with a real heart, but I also want to mention Estevez as Clark. Not just your average high school, you can clearly tell that he has a lot of deep-seated regret and anger about his choices. Over on the adults’ side, the only two major characters outside the core five are Paul Gleason as Assistant Principal Vernon and John Kapelos as the janitor Carl Reed. Gleason, who would play a similarly humorless role in Die Hard is so arrogant and unconfident that he often tries to flaunt his authority over the students, even as he makes a fool of himself. Kapelos, meanwhile, is very carefree and easygoing as Reed, not getting in the way of the teens while occasionally standing up to Vernon. Meanwhile, despite its extremely modest budget, The Breakfast Club is pretty impressive from a filmmaking perspective. Thomas Del Ruth, who also shot Stand By Me and The Mighty Ducks, opts mostly for Steadicam shots of the characters, staying focused on them or following their actions. There are a surprising amount of wide shots, illustrating the teens being trapped in such a seemingly large room. Every now and then when the students are talking together, the camera is roving around them as the speaker constantly changes. This matches up well with the editing by Dede Allen, which never feels choppy or poor. Instead, it moves between different shots and scenes with ease. There are virtually no cutaway gags, which enhances the comedic moments even more. Moreover, all of the teens are given almost the exact same amount of screen-time in the film, which makes 97-minute story feel well-balanced. There is a film score provided by musicians Keith Forsey and Gary Chang, and it’s about the most ’80s thing you’re likely to ever hear. Nearly all of the original tracks consist of synthesizers and electric drums, tuned differently for the mood of the scene. This includes a love theme, which manages to avoid being super sappy. But let’s be honest, the most memorable piece of music is Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” which plays over the film’s now-iconic ending sequence. It’s actually a perfect fit for the film, as these kids may never meet each other again but will never forget their time together this Saturday. The song has also become the subject of various memes and parodies over the years. When it comes down to it, it’s hard to think of a more widely known and beloved teen movie from a decade chock full of them. The director had a number of his own classic entries in his pocket, but none of them have aged nearly as well. Again, it’s really just the simplicity here that creates the genius and relatability. The Breakfast Club is the quintessential coming-of-age movie for teenagers and adults everywhere. Even with a career marked by angst-ridden teen dramas, John Hughes managed to completely top himself relatively early in his career. The fact that so many movies in the modern era have used the basic template for their own plots is a true testament to its timelessness. Some were certainly better than others, but none will ever beat this generation-defining classic.

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