First published by The Hoopla, 16 February 2015
The classic brat pack movie The Breakfast Club is now officially middle aged: on February 15 it turned 30. Does it stand the test of time? Does Judd Nelson?
A brain. An athlete. A basketcase. A princess. A criminal. It’s Saturday at Chicago’s Shermer High School, and director John Hughes has summoned all the cliches to weekend detention. But like the glass doors and panels smashing throughout the film, every stereotype will be in tiny little pieces by the movie’s end.
As always, it’s the adults who manage to unite the bickering kids – in this case, shouty teacher Vernon, who stands in for all the hated authority figures in their lives.
But not before they go at each other: “You’re a gutless turd!”. “You don’t have the balls to stand up to your friends! To say to them you’re going to like who you’re going to like!”
And my favourite: “Just bury your head in the sand and wait for your fuckin’ prom.”
It’s surprising to remember how potty the dialogue is – and how few gags there are in Hughes’ script (he was a National Lampoon alumnus). But he’s too busy taking on the big issues: neglectful parents, violent families, the brain who tried to shoot himself for getting an ‘F’.
That’s not to say he doesn’t give us some memorable scenes: Ally Sheedy’s oddball shaking her head to drop a dandruff snow storm on her sketch; Molly Ringwald’s
popular girl flipping the bird to bad boy Judd Nelson; and the obligatory corridor chase.
At the beginning of the film the characters’ first instincts are to cling to the stereotypes that answer Vernon’s “Who am I?” essay question. By then end, they’re just desperately seeking whatever makes them all fundamentally the same: scared, angry and unsure. Scared of growing up, because: “When you grow up, your heart dies.”
“We’re all pretty bizarre, some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all,” observes the athlete (Emilio Estevez) proving that the group’s smarts don’t all reside with the brain, Anthony Michael Hall.
The usual teen movies tropes are mostly avoided until the film’s closing minutes (spoiler alert). The rebel pashes the princess. The jock finally notices the mousy girl after she has a makeover. And the nerd we now know will grow up to be Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg writes everyone’s essay.
I watched it to see if it stands up today (it does). But to be honest I really watched it for Nelson. As a teenager I remember being enthralled seeing his bad boy Bender character eat up the screen (and it says something about Hughes’ directing genius that this feminist was rooting for that kiss by the end).
The movie’s closing song – Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) – can still give me goose bumps. Within a couple of years of the film’s release, my friends and I were idiotic enough to think we could bodgey up fake ids and plaster on make-up to get inside the Melbourne clubs playing the English new wave music we loved. And someone was idiot enough to open the doors and let us in. “Tell me your troubles and doubts/Giving me everything inside and out… Hey, hey, hey, hey…”