“You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?”
—The Breakfast Club
I’ve seen The Breakfast Club too many times to track—so many times, in fact, I can practically recite every line in order. What’s most interesting to me is personal: how volatile my view of this film has been through the years. Seeing it as a teenager in its day, I found it incredibly deep. John Hughes nailed high school social politics better than anyone, and he did it with humor and panache. I was taken aback at how accurately The Breakfast Club depicted my own adolescent perceptions, attitudes, frustrations, fears, and dreams. Seeing it in my 20s and 30s, however, I found it trite—moreso the older I got. Still, I adored its juvenile but sharp and totally quotable lines. Flipping through channels on a recent school night, I noticed that AMC was airing it—in like, five minutes. I hadn’t seen it in awhile, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out what impression it would leave on me now.
The Breakfast Club is an achievement. More like a play than a movie and decidedly minimalist in plot and execution—five characters in search of an exit—it’s unlike anything else Hughes did. The plot is simple: five high school students (Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and newcomer Judd Nelson) from different backgrounds—and more importantly, different cliques—are forced to spend a day together in close quarters for a Saturday detention. Alien and hostile toward each other, they ultimately bond over silly and not so silly stuff. Not much happens, really—there’s a hallway run that ends with Bender (Nelson) shooting hoops for a scholarsheeeeeeeeep—but that’s okay; the drama comes from the personalities of the characters and the friction and attraction between them. Unlike the plot, the statement here is anything but simple: Hughes says a boatload about stereotypes, peer pressure, conformity, rules, family, and social mores—and how we all trap others and ourselves underneath them. In a way that sort of presages Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture, Hughes turns the “American Dream” on its head: all of these characters simultaneously embody and reject the ideal. Whether he’s hopeful for the future or not, he sees that these kids and this generation do not operate like those who came before it.
What makes The Breakfast Club work is its great ensemble cast. Even the shallow treatment of the adults (Paul Gleason as Principal Vernon and John Kapelos as janitor Carl) doesn’t take away from the film. It’s totally believable: after a deep exchange, I can’t help but think that everyone goes back to what they were doing before. Come Monday, maybe Bender dates Claire, maybe Andy dates Allison, and maybe everyone is nice to Brian—but I doubt it. A major theme here is that everyone is full of shit—even the good guys. The Breakfast Club is rooted in its time and culture (i.e., it’s very ’80s and very white middle class American), but it hits something universal. It’s also totally entertaining: it opens with a Bowie quote, has a classic theme song—”Don’t You (Forget about Me)” by Simple Minds—and is jam packed with snarky lines. What’s not to love?
A word about AMC: like a lot of cable stations, it censors “bad” words. I’m not a fan of that, but obviously it won’t stop me from watching something. That said, AMC could’ve done a better job editing here. The dubbing is horrible; apparently no attempt was made to find replacement words that even remotely match the characters mouths. Ditto for the voiceovers. The censoring often relies not on the word but the context. For example, AMC has an aversion to the word “dick” only when it refers to a penis—not when it refers to a jerk. It doesn’t like “asshole,” but “ass” is okay. It hates all forms of “shit,” replacing it with variations like “it’s the pits,” “eat slaw,” and “hogwash” (for “bullshit”). I recommend sticking with the uncut edition—foul language has a place here and something crucial is lost without it: realness.
In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Breakfast Club “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).