The Breakfast Club (1985) has always fascinated me as a piece of pop-culture. It’s a movie that had critical and box office success. It’s weathered thirty-two years and is remembered as one of the defining movies of the 1980s. And I don’t understand why?
Its narrative goes nowhere. Its characters are thin. And it’s condescending toward the intelligence of teenagers.
The Breakfast Club (1985) is condescending because the film mishandles its core message. Which is, people different from ourselves are going through problems that we are rarely prithee to and we should all cut each other a little more slack, because we’re not that different from one another.
This by no means is an original maxim, but The Breakfast Club (1985) treats it like a revelation. But teenagers aren’t this simple. They may still be developing physically and emotionally, but like children and like us, they too have a great intuitive depth for understanding. It wouldn’t be so condescending if our characters weren’t caricatures.
But they really are as simple as how they are described. Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) is the athlete. Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) is the princess. Brian Johnson (Anthony Micheal Hall) is the brain. John Bender (Judd Nelson) is the criminal. And Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) is the basket case. There isn’t a progression of their understanding for one another throughout the film. They just reject each other until they don’t. What depth they are given shows up too late in the film. It all just changes in a scene late in the movie when they simply talk to each other.
If this was John Hughes‘ intention to show the beauty and importance of merely talking to one another, then he failed. To make that idea powerful and wonderful he would have needed to give us the rich inner lives of these five students leading up to that scene.
I’ve also always wondered if these character’s were uncomplicated on purpose. Did John Hughes keep them archetypal to make their collective plight more universal? If he did he didn’t succeed.
If your characters are going to be simple then the narrative has to push them along. There needs to be a series of small, clear goals that they achieve which inform and give gravity to the overarching point of the story.The Breakfast Club (1985) merely meanders from vignette to vignette. I’ve thought that maybe this was intended too, but it can’t be. The letter that Brian writes at the end states, “you see us as you want to see us.” This is the line to define the movie, the summation of all we’ve just witnessed and it would be far more powerful if we had seen those small goals achieved as well as our characters inner lives.
To be fair, the movie looks good and the actors are doing their best with the material they’ve been given. Also the Simple Minds Don’t You (Forget About Me) is the perfect song to encapsulate the movie as well as the time it was produced in.
And maybe that’s it. I’m looking at this from a distant, Millennial perspective. While I feel that the characters are what a Baby-boomer thought Generation X was like, it mustn’t have felt that way then. The movie was a hit. And maybe none of the structural issues mattered. Like I described in my critique of Dead End Drive-In (1986), maybe this movie hits the only note it needs to, an emotional one. Maybe it captured the stress and tedium of being trapped in a cliques or the pain of having parents who never listen. But for me The Breakfast Club (1985) sets up too little early on in the film. So, when the line is said and the song is played, it comes off as contrived and too indulgent.