Five high school students (a nerd, jock, prom queen, delinquent, and loner) are thrown together for Saturday detention and discover they have more in common than they thought. Classic coming of age film set against 1980’s pop culture.
“When the causes of the Decline Of Western Civilization are finally writ, Hollywood will surely have to answer why it turned over one of man’s most significant art forms to the self-gratification of high-schoolers...” Industry rag Variety didn’t so much greet The Breakfast Club with open arms as crunch it into an armpit-lock and squeeze until the jerking stopped. (see Variety review below)
In retrospect, this violent reaction to such a vanilla-flavoured piece of cinema reads like a badly informed dad’s rants. Or maybe an allergic reaction to Emilio Estevez’s dancing. Variety was cruel at the time but, over 20 years on, has time been cruel to the Club? In the spirit of adolescent indecision, that’s a definite yes-no.
Calling it radical would be a stretch, yet in 1985 The Breakfast Club dressed differently from all the other teen comedies flying down the chutes. Director John Hughes wrote the script in a fortnight, constructing a simple, one-location talkie that brought a generation’s submerged angst to the surface. The result was a movie that’s confused, impatient, indulgent, naive, clumsy, unintentionally funny and prone to random outbursts of energy. Rather like the audience that lined the blocks to tune in and angst out.
To Shermer High, then, where five Kellogg’s Teen Pack archetypes — jock, weirdo, nerd, rebel, prom queen — are assembled for an all-Saturday detention. Over the course of eight hours, they pick at each other’s defences (fun) until an existential maelstrom hits and they come to learn some universal teen-truths (less fun). Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson are all volume, the last blasting out his bothers like a WWE wrestler, but Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall are great, even during the film’s more pompous moments.
The style might be flying in from another decade (Sheedy’s makeover from chic Goth to Bridesmaid Of Minnie Mouse is as laugh-out-loud as it ever was), but the emotional baggage has survived the journey. Really — and this is a compliment — it’s a movie for anyone who’s ever had zits. Which means all of us at some point.
So, if you had zits in the ’80s, there’s guilty retro-pleasures aplenty, like Estevez’s dance moves, an extraordinary piece of performance art that combines harassment by persistent wasp (arms) with prostate-popping squat thrusts (legs). And if you have zits now? There’s just about enough truth behind the banalities to still strike discord.
Hughes has made funnier (Ferris Bueller) and better (Pretty In Pink), but this is the only one you could get away with calling iconic. Good and bad, it's still the definitive '80s teen movie - and, to paraphrase Simple Minds - don't you forget about it.
Simon Crook, Empire, 01 01 2011
Coming together as strangers, none of the group initially likes thuggish loudmouth Judd Nelson, who taunts pretty Molly Ringwald, torments dorkish Anthony Michael Hall and challenges champ athlete Emilio Estevez while the odd lady, Ally Sheedy, looks on from a different space.
When the causes of the Decline of Western Civilization are finally writ, Hollywood will surely have to answer why it turned one of man’s most significant art forms over to the self-gratification of high-schoolers. Or does director John Hughes really believe, as he writes here, that ‘when you grow up, your heart dies.’ It may. But not unless the brain has already started to rot with films like this.
By Variety Staff, Dec 31, 1984
"The Breakfast Club" begins with an old dramatic standby. You isolate a group of people in a room, you have them talk, and eventually they exchange truths about themselves and come to new understandings. William Saroyan and Eugene O'Neill have been here before, but they used saloons and drunks. "The Breakfast Club" uses a high school library and five teenage kids.
The movie takes place on a Saturday. The five kids have all violated high school rules in one way or another, and they've qualified for a special version of detention: all day long, from 8 to 4, in the school library. They arrive at the school one at a time. There's the arrogant, swaggering tough guy (Judd Nelson). The insecure neurotic (Ally Sheedy) who hides behind her hair and clothes. The jock from the wrestling team (Emilio Estevez). The prom queen (Molly Ringwald). And the class brain (Anthony Michael Hall).
These kids have nothing in common, and they have an aggressive desire not to have anything in common. In ways peculiar to teenagers, who sometimes have a studious disinterest in anything that contradicts their self-image, these kids aren't even curious about each other. Not at first, anyway. But then the day grows longer and the library grows more oppressive, and finally the tough kid can't resist picking on the prom queen, and then there is a series of exchanges.
Nothing that happens in "The Breakfast Club" is all that surprising. The truths that are exchanged are more or less predictable, and the kids have fairly standard hang-ups. It comes as no surprise, for example, to learn that the jock's father is a perfectionist, or that the prom queen's parents give her material rewards but withhold their love. But "The Breakfast Club" doesn't need earthshaking revelations; it's about kids who grow willing to talk to one another, and it has a surprisingly good ear for the way they speak. (Ever notice the way lots of teenage girls, repeating a conversation, say "she goes ... rather than "she says..."?)
The movie was written and directed by John Hughes, who also made last year's "Sixteen Candles." Two of the stars of that movie (Ringwald and Hall) are back again, and there's another similarity: Both movies make an honest attempt to create teenagers who might seem plausible to other teenagers. Most Hollywood teenage movies give us underage nymphos or nostalgia-drenched memories of the 1950s.
The performances are wonderful, but then this is an all-star cast, as younger actors go; in addition to Hall and Ringwald from "Sixteen Candles," there's Sheedy from "War Games" and Estevez from "Repo Man." Judd Nelson is not yet as well known, but his character creates the strong center of the film; his aggression is what breaks the silence and knocks over the walls.
The only weaknesses in Hughes' writing are in the adult characters: The teacher is one-dimensional and one-note, and the janitor is brought onstage with a potted philosophical talk that isn't really necessary. Typically, the kids don't pay much attention.
Note: The "R" rating on this film refers to language; I think a PG-I3 rating would have been more reasonable. The film is certainly appropriate for thoughtful teenagers.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times,
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Total Number of Responses: 34
Film Score (0-5): 4.24
62 members and guests attended the AGM and the screening of The Breakfast Club.
Sadly this was the last film of the season and we look forward to welcoming you all back in September. We had 34 responses (a 55% response rate) from those present which delivered a Film Score of 4.24.
Your collected comments are shown below.
“A good film to end the season. Slightly predictable character stereotypes but entertaining nonetheless. Many thanks to the Committee and Volunteers for all their hard work to bring us another very enjoyable season”.
“I've always slightly misjudged this film as a guilty pleasure thinking it's enjoyable but not that good. Unjustly it appears: the script is sharper than I've given it credit for, the issues timeless and the shifting interplay between characters cleverly done. The premise is an old favourite from Chaucer on; the ensemble piece where each cast member gradually reveals their story. If there's a weakness it is that they're ciphers rather than characters. Each cemented into their role as; jock, nerd, weirdo, etc. they don't really convince as real people - there's a lack of grain and detail. Bender: school hard man and loser is the least convincing of all (I was at school with kids with his back story - they didn't brag about it, they were silent, brooding, dynamite and you knew to step well away once the touch paper had been lit) which is a problem as he is the driver for the plot and exposition. That said this does not greatly detract from the movie, I loved it when it came out and my kids loved it when I showed it to them. Paul Gleason nearly steals the show, Allison's makeover, which seemed merely risible at the time now looks horribly misjudged but with Simple Minds in their imperial phase belting out the theme tune as Bender strides into the future it's hard not to love it”.
“The best film so far…if you have a few more like that next season I will come more regularly”.
“Refreshing look back at the '80's in a well-crafted film by John Hughes. Stand out performances by the five actors at the start of their careers. My memory of watching it the first time was stronger than seeing it the second time, but I'm glad I did!”
“Unexpectedly excellent and surprisingly contemporary. Thank you for being bold enough to screen it”.
“Excellent and way if front of its time.” “Amazing development of story”. “Surprisingly entertaining”.
“Did not expect to like it but thoroughly enjoyed it”.
“It had a profound effect on me when I first saw it. Not quite so much now – but I am 35 years older!”
“Well it took me back to the Seventies”. “Still holds up …..Very entertaining”. “Well acted and well scripted – entertaining”. “I enjoyed the film the first time, and I wasn’t disappointed this time. Excellent acting”.
“Great study in teenage angst, great performances”.
“Very enjoyable. I loved the American High School genre”.
“An absorbing essay into teenage angst”.
“Why do Americans think we are interested in their school system? Not what a group of UK teenagers would talk about”.
“I did not enjoy this film at all. Until perhaps the last 15 minutes”.
“Silly over played stereotypes. Trite, indulgent and obvious”.