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Retro: The Breakfast Club

posted by Paul on 4/16/01

Some movies are products of their time, enjoyed on release, but mocked with the benefit of hindsight. Other movies are timeless classics, which never get dated. Luckily for us, the eighties was an era with much to laugh at. Be it cheesy Miami Vice clones trying to act cool at the local nightclub, or the shuttlecock music of Wham poisoning the airwaves, it was unquestionably a tragic decade - the decade taste forgot. Like most decades, living it was much different than reminiscing about it.

Thankfully, while taste was out, kitsch was in. Cult classics such as "The A Team", "Knight Rider", "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" were all products of these tripped-out years. Even duds like "Howard the Duck" and "Mannequin" can be enjoyed for being entirely bizarre and not without their charm. Sure, they were lacking thematically, but thereís something powerful about watching glorious failures, relic movies that never should have progressed past the idea stage.

"The Breakfast Club" is one of those curious beasts - a movie for and of its time, which somehow holds up strongly today. Not quite as risible as "Weekend at Bernies", or as low-grade as a Corey Feldman flick, this John Hughes teen vehicle provides an uncomfortable blend of teenage bonding, cringe worthy insults and teenage embarrassment. To be so cheesy, itís aged well.

Better than its stars...

The Teen Movie Recipe

To really appreciate "The Breakfast Club", you need to realize that it was made by John Hughes, the master of "cute" movie moments. This was his first major directing hit after "Sixteen Candles", and provided the launching pad for a career writing cheap, yet profitable family comedy - the sort which feature precocious brats singlehandedly thwarting two inept thieves. Itís also been the benchmark for all subsequent teen movies. Hughes, formerly a writer for National Lampoon, wanted to make a movie that spoke out to a new generation of kids. A movie that rung true and struck a chord. While "Sixteen Candles" had elements of teen angst and undercurrents of disillusionment, it was with "The Breakfast Club" that Hughes formed his niche. And later he'd parlay those abilities into tremendous success.

Damn Handsome

Here are the ingredients, prepared and perfected by Hughes, to make a future teen "hit".

1) Take five (or more) reasonably attractive young actors.

2) Write a plot, which somehow involves teen "issues". Teen angst is always a favorite.

3) Make each young character diverse. Represent every type of person. Youíre trying to cater for everyone, so every teen flick must have at least one rebel character, one jock, one snob, one nymphomaniac and one nerd.

4) Make the adults irrational and unsympathetic. Adults in teen movies are supposed to be conniving, repressed and ignorant. Kids are supposed to be misunderstood, and angst-ridden.

5) Itís always better to make the characters bond. Include conflicts at the start, which quickly turns to indifference, which eventually turns to respect and/or love. Happy endings make the meal easier to swallow.

Generic meal = easy cash-in = lots of money

Its feel-good aspect aside, "The Breakfast Club" is a very entertaining movie. Predictable, yes, but also very funny. There are some interesting insights and observations, such as:

".. you look a lot better without all that black shit under your eyes."


"You know why guys like you knock everything? Itís because youíre afraid."

Donít you feel wiser already?

To be fair, though, while the plot is simple, the characters are very engaging. And, like all good movies, the characters make it a keeper. In this one, you have the nerd, the jock, the snob, the rebel, and the recluse ably represented. With the exception of Bender, each character is fairly generic, not straying from type, but likeable nonetheless.

Itís easy to follow fun.

Bender was certainly an interesting character - a smartass loner, who didnít want to reform. Sadly, the movie saw fit to conform him, anyway. See virtually any other teen movie, where the rebel is either reduced to red-faced shame or has a "it's nice to be nice" epiphany by the third act. Here, Bender just changes during the infamous bonding scene, wherein a tearful Andrew (Emilio "long finger" Estevez) confessed to taping a guy's buttcheeks together. It seemed false, and was lacking in conviction. Eventually, Bender reverted from an amusing slacker into a "misunderstood" teen. And, in my opinion, the movie suffered because of it, since there was little convincing motivation for him to change..

Bender = homage
- "Eat my shorts" was first heard in "The Breakfast Club", and was one of Benderís smart-mouthed lines in the movie. In later years, a little yellow cartoon character called Bart Simpson would make the phrase famous.

- Without Bender (and indeed "The Breakfast Club") we wouldnít have gotten the many elements which made "Scream" a success. Kevin Williamson, who made "Scream", loved this film, even admitting he was heavily influenced by its style. Sharp-tongued characters like Randy are clearly modelled somewhat on Bender and the self-analysis and sophisticated vocabularies would later find their place on "Dawson's Creek".

The Stars and their characters.


Emilio Estevezís had a long career, but this is arguably his best acting gig. Certainly, one of his most credible. Sadly, when you star in "Men at work" and "The Mighty Ducks" (two of your best movies), youíre not really approaching the Al Pacino league of acting prowess. Poor Emilio. A pretty capable actor, overshadowed by his renegade brother (Charlie Sheen) and father (Martin Sheen), both of whom have attached themselves to more quality projects. In this movie, he plays a midget wrestler, but he was originally slated to play the John Bender part. Itís hard to take him seriously as a physical presence, but his acting here glosses over that inconsistency.



Despite all appearances, Andrew is the jock of this motley crew. With his skin-tight jeans and tragically unhip sleeveless T-Shirt, he is the epitome of "geekazoidal" rage. He's simply conforming to what people want him to be - successful and competitive. Even though he doesn't want to live that way or be perceived as such. So...he rebels and tapes a boy's asscheeks together (if you even try to figure out the logistics of that scenario, you'll go a little cuckoo. Who would sit idly by while they're buttocks are being taped together? And by Emilio, no less). It's all very Freudian with young Andrew trying to live up to his father's lofty expectations and feeling overwhelmed by them. Emilio is most convincing when he's expressing the pain in that bonding scene.

Probably because his old man pushed him into acting alongside his dope-headed, hooker-buying brother. Or maybe not.


Admittedly, Judd Nelson was very strong in this movie - strong, brooding and effective as an outsider. Without a doubt, playing this rebel character was his career highlight, as a string of misdemeanors put the brakes on what could have been a promising career. These days, he generally appears in C rate fare (since the critically panned "Suddenly Susan" sitcom is highlight on a generally dismal resume), but a few wiser career and personal decisions could have made a considerable difference.



The detention regular. Despite being lumbered with a name that sounds vaguely like a gay porn star, J. B is the joker in the pack and the resident wise-ass. Again, like the rest of the gang, he's putting on a mask, which slips as the movie progresses. Pretending to be impervious, Bender's mask of aloofness soon drops when he's physically threatened by Principal Vernon. Whattapussy. And with his deep-seated resentment of his abusive father occasionally brimming to the surface, Bender is the typical misguided teen.


Molly Ringwald was a mainstay in John Hughesí movies, mostly playing a vague, dreamy teenybopper. The quintessential girl-next-door - Katie Holmes sans natural beauty. She did what she needed to do, which mostly involved smiling inanely, uttering bland dialogue, and looking wistful. Then, when unoriginal directors had used her for her waning "appeal", she ended up in the same place as most of her Brat Pack counterparts - the Hollywood scrapheap.



Lipstick wearing do-gooder. Claire has a superior attitude and has a very unique "trick" of applying her tacky make-up. For some reason, she thinks this is worth sharing with the group. She received the brunt of Bender's rapier-like put-downs, which mostly involved the contradiction of suggesting she was a virgin whilst calling her a slut. Claire was the typical Brat Pack girl, so synonymous with these sort of excessive eighties' movies. Rich, self-obsessed and selfish.

Ally and Anthony

Speaking of the Brat Pack, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall, two of the filmís stars, are renowned for their association with that infamous group. The Brat Pack was the name given to a bunch of young, obnoxious actors prolific in the eighties. It included such luminaries as Rob Lowe and Matt Dillon - basically kids who over-estimated their talent, and grew a little unbearable under the spotlight. Hall, whose cockiness swelled with his movie fame, developed a drug problem, and Sheedy developed an eating disorder. It was all downhill after this. Hall makes the under-rated Andrew McCarthy look like Robert De Niro, while Sheedy wasnít exactly worrying Meryl Streep in the acting stakes. That said, they slotted pretty cosily into their stereotypical characters here. In fact, it could be said that it represents their best work.


Allison and Brian

Allison is the weird, disturbingly quiet Goth girl. That's the initial prognosis, but as the movie develops, we get other insights into her pseudo-complex character. She's a compulsive liar with no friends and a drinking problem. Hmm, sounds like a relative. She lies about being a slut, but, slap your thigh, it actually turns out she's tighter than Joan River's upper lip. And, this Goth is later given the Richard Simmons treatment, and turned into a beautiful swan. A beautiful swan that soon gets the attention of Emilio "tripod" Estevez.

Brian is the brain. Get it? Pure comedy gold.

Not only does he look incredibly awkward, he's also incredibly annoying. He got an "F" in shop class, and thinks that's justification for crying in the all-important bonding scene. Insensitive asshole. He also has the weirdest and most irritating reaction to marijuana in cinematic history. By accepted standards, marijuana depresses the nervous system and calms you down. But, when Brian smokes it, he wears stupid glasses and talks like a Mongoloid on acid. I think it was supposed to be funny, but it just makes me want to vomit..all over John Hughes.

It amazes me that Anthony Michael Hall is allowed to walk the streets.


The dancing in "The Breakfast Club" is widely regarded as one of its kitschest features. Nothing odd about a few teenagers dancing together in detention, eh? And in perfect sync. Realism wasn't "The Breakfast Club"'s strong suit, certainly. I mean, anyone whoís ever been to detention knows how implausible it is to be given the opportunity to smoke joints, engage in deep conversation and dance on a rail with their buddies. All in one day.


Ok, so itís a breezy movie, and weíre supposed to suspend disbelief. Right? Well, yeah, but what fun would that be? Because quite frankly, any industry that casts James Belushi as a hard-nut principal is fair game, as far as my criticisms are concerned. Like a lot of these teen flicks, the credibility lingers at a depressingly low level. The kids are in detention, yet they have free reign of the school, and a generous reserve of drugs and alcohol. The principal, supposed to be supervising them, pops in once or twice (mostly to argue with Bender and prove that adults are anal). Allison even had a make-over, which begs the question: why did this Goth have a preppy dress and make-up ready? Beyond that, the pupils are free to smoke pot, drink alcohol, run around the school halls, share jokes, date, have a life-changing conversation, and still make time to write a heartfelt apology to the principal.

Letís take a look at that:

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think youíre crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out, is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

Certainly after a day of general debauchery, such clear English is bound to be employed.

The moral: kids are unique, adults like to stereotype, and...they shouldnít.

Profound? Totally.

Moved? Iím sure

The predictable approach.

Everyone comes into their detention behaving completely indifferent to each other. Utter silence. Then, they started to hate one another. Then, it turned to like. Then respect. Then friendship. And then Love.

All this in the span of a few hours.

The characters slowly learn that they have more in common than they first thought. In other words, all teens are insecure, misunderstood sadsacks, adults are uptight and repressive, and everyone can get along if they open up.
It may have put smiles on impressionable teenage faces, but the triteness factor is high. And while the message is certainly noble, the execution is wholly contrived and unconvincing. But, on some level, that is the objective.

The Conclusion

"The Breakfast Club" is an inoffensive movie. What it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in verve. It has an innocence which is enduring, even though there are many contrivances at its core. Watch it once, and be impressed. Watch it twice, and youíll feel cheated for being moved the first time. Nevertheless, the movie really speaks out to the disenfranchised and has some important points about inter-generational misunderstandings.

It really is hard movie to dislike and an easy movie to love. At times, you'll cringe, but in the end you'll feel you've watched a special movie. Drugs, cheesy 80s music...

Plus, dancing. Lots and lots of shameful dancing.

"Don't you forget about me"

AOL IM: paulwdfans (just for you, our lovely readers)

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