#69 The Breakfast Club
(1985, John Hughes)
“You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal”
The Breakfast Club is held up as the ultimate teen movie, and certainly one of the best movies of the 80s. Does it deserve those titles? Yes. Yes it does. That would be my entire review, but I’ve set myself an arbitrary 500-1000 word limit, so I suppose I’d better try and say why I agree with all the praise.
The premise is simple. Five high school students are made to sit in detention one Saturday. Each of them is a different stereotype of high school – the sporty jock Andrew (Emilio Estevez), the preppy princess from a rich family Claire (Molly Ringwald), the troublemaker Bender (Judd Nelson), the brainy nerd Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) and the quirky weirdo loner Allison (Ally Sheedy). Over the course of the movie, they all learn how to set aside their clique-based differences and become friends. That’s it. It’s not much on paper, but in practice it’s brilliant.
The reason is simple. For much of the film, there is one set and a cast of little more than five actors. Sure, the teacher and the janitor are wandering around the school and we see the parents in book-end scenes, but for the most part, it’s Estevez, Ringwald, Nelson, Hall and Sheedy playing off each other for an hour and a half. I mentioned in my last review for Paranormal Activity that it works because less is more, that by stripping everything down to bumps in the night, it’s scarier. The same applies here on a different level. There’s no attempt on John Hughes’ part to show anything but teenagers being teenagers. Instead of showing a bunch of teenagers throwing unrealistic wild parties or driving flash cars they couldn’t possibly afford, it shows us teenagers sitting around talking about themselves a lot, which is exactly what real teenagers do.
The performances are spectacular, which they have to be for a stripped down movie such as this. A poor performance would ruin everything. It’s impossible to pick any actor that shines especially here because they work so well as an ensemble too. However, it says a lot that Ally Sheedy can make her character so charming and likeable without even saying a word for the first half an hour of the movie. But everyone gets their standout moments, and while Allison certainly ended up being my favourite character, everyone is likeable.
Of course, it helps that Hughes was smart in his characterisation. Although each character is presented as a stereotype, in practice we find out they’re all more than their cliques say they are. This is not a dumb high school comedy that goes “hurr, he’s a jock, he must be stupid” or “he’s a nerd, he’s just awkward”. Every character is flawed and sympathetic in equal measure without resorting to traditional clichés. These characters are believable, and chances are you knew people just like this in high school, or indeed you were one of these people. Even the principal, who doesn’t get much character development, feels like more than just an arsehole teacher stereotype.
What’s more, the film hasn’t aged. Bar the 80s-tastic Simple Minds track that opens and closes the movie (“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”), there is little here that screams “this movie was made in the 1980s!” You could copy and paste the dialogue with modern day high school kids and it would still work. It’s timeless. The kinds of things teenagers complain about now are in this movie.
The sole criticism I can level at the movie is something John Hughes was prone to doing a lot – featuring a lengthy, silly song and dance routine. What’s worse is that the scene in this movie immediately follows the heartfelt outpouring scene that I already know I’m writing in the favourite scene section, so it feels even more like filler than it already is. To have a silly scene where the kids dance around the library for no good reason felt horrifically out of place. Fortunately, it’s that scene alone that disappointed me. The rest of the movie was fantastic.
So there we go. The critics all say this is the ultimate teen movie and they are very, very right.
Starring Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald & Ally Sheedy
Written by John Hughes
Produced by Ned Tanen & John Hughes
Music by Keith Forsey
Cinematography by Thomas Del Ruth
Edited by Dede Allen
Favourite Scene: All five students sit on the floor and discuss various issues in their lives, opening up to one another in a way they never expected to. The entire sequence is superbly acted by the entire cast, and sums up much of the vibe of the movie
Scene That Bugged Me: The immediately following dance scene. No. Just no.
Watch it if: You want to see the greatest teen movie ever made
Avoid it if: You have no soul
Originally posted on Blogspot Friday 16 March 2012