THE seminal John Hughes 1980s teen flick (with apologies to “Pretty in Pink”, “Ferris Bueller” and the rest), “The Breakfast Club” is the story of five high school students drawn together on for Saturday morning detention who manage to overcome stereotypes and bond against society’s roles for them and their tyrannical principal through the power of 80s cheesiness.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way right up front. First, yes, the characters (the jock, the nerd, the criminal, the princess and the basket case) are one-dimensional cardboard cutouts that are heavily stereotyped. That’s kind of the point, but it’s a point people seem to miss. Second, no, there’s no great resolution to their problems at the end. Again, that’s the idea: you don’t sit down one day and solve all the problems that have defined your life up to that point – this movie is cheesy, but it’s not that cheesy. Third, yes, they spend the entire film grumbling about their problems, which don’t hold a candle to the “real” problems of grown up life. That’s called “teen angst” and, again, is the point – in high school, your problems are the worst things in the world. If you didn’t feel that way, you were never a teenager and need to return to the Borg collective.
Now for all the things this movie gets right. The Brat Pack of the 80s all shine in their roles. The characters may be predefined and prepacked stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean they’re shallow. Ally Sheedy’s quirkiness makes hers one of the most memorable characters of the era despite barely speaking. Judd Nelson defined 80s rebellion with a role that had essentially existed in every high school movie ever, but had never been done this well. John Hughes somehow manages to get each to spread their wings while keeping them in a fairly small box. Even Paul Gleason as the overbearing principal somehow manages to make you both love and despise him. As one of the earlier films to play the “kids outsmarting the adults” card, it excels in allowing the characters to make a dreary day of detention into an adventure without the over-the-top antics of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” – it’s not as funny, but a lot more believable. This isn’t a movie you laugh throughout, it’s one you experience and live.
Over a quarter of a century later, this movie remains a classic, defining a genre of film, an era and a stage of life all at the same time. Even with as much as the times have changed and our schools and our children have changed, this movie still manages to speak to all of those things and still rings true.