If you survived the huge hair and equally daunting fashion of the Eighties, it’s a pretty fair bet that you have a lot of love for the epitome of Brat Pack cool, The Breakfast Club. Unbelievably it’s 30 years since this tale of high school stereotypes and their gleeful destruction via some whip-sharp one-liners, first appeared. Modern TV hits such as Glee owe more than a little to perhaps the best high school movie ever.
Pretty much every teenager can identify with a movie about pressure; whether that’s from parents to get the right grades or peers to fit into a particular social group………..and pretty much every teenager who saw it did.
I loved it when I was the same age as the characters (the storyline’s catnip to angsty teens anxious to be understood) and I still do (even though I am resolutely NOT a teenager anymore and am getting quite enough pre-teen angst from my own kids thank you).
It’s so much more than a teen film though. You don’t have to be under drinking age to appreciate the dialogue, the way outsiders are championed and the popular kids have good hearts; the way everyone unites to oppose an oppressive system. It’s how life SHOULD be.
Set in Illinois in 1984 on a run-of-the-mill Saturday; five kids, seemingly with absolutely nothing in common, register for detention at their school for a collection of misdemeanours. The Athlete, The Princess, The Basket Case, The Criminal and The Brain assemble in a room where they’re asked by hard-line Principal Vernon to write an essay about who they think they are.
1980‘s moviegoers must have wondered how on earth five kids trapped in a classroom was going to be interesting. After all 1985 had its fair share of dynamic, teen-targeted films to compete (step forward Michael J Fox in Back to the Future and Teen Wolf – plus Desperately Seeking Susan, The Goonies and Weird Science). This could be preachy or at worst plain boring but over the course of the next couple of hours we begin to see how the boxes these characters have been conveniently put into are unexpectedly opened, allowing them to actually be themselves for once. And it’s riveting.
They talk, they fight, they dance, they talk, they smoke pot, they harass and tease each other……..and talk some more. It’s all not really like a movie and far more like a play but it works.
Of course the fact that many of the cast had previously appeared in other Brat Pack movies and were beginning to make a name for themselves also helped build the film’s legendary status.
Molly Ringwald who plays ‘Princess’ Claire had already appeared in writer and director John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles and would go on to another Brat Pack blockbuster, Pretty in Pink a year later. Emilio Estevez as Andrew Reynolds (The Athlete) would also be seen in St Elmo’s Fire later that year alongside fellow Breakfast Clubbers Ally Sheedy (as outsider Allison Reynolds) and Judd Nelson (as rebel John Bender).
As the movie ends new friendships are forged and it looks as if romance could be on the cards for two couples but do they go back to their cliques and forget about their discoveries or was this the dawn of a new understanding? It’s one of the movie’s intriguing twists that that’s never made clear.
As for the actors themselves, not one of them disappeared into obscurity. Ringwald has made a good career as a successful author, musician, dancer and sometime agony aunt, while Estevez continues to act and direct as do Nelson, Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall (The Brain).
Do they get together in a classroom each Saturday though? Probably not but they’ll always do that in a happy place in my teenage head.