Like a group therapy session with no psychologist in sight (unless that scary principal counts), The Breakfast Club is often considered the Most Meaningful of all the John Hughes teen movies. And while that very well might be the case, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best of those movies; that prize would most likely have to go to Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink. But one thing that must be said about The Breakfast Club is that it doesn’t quite resemble any other teen movie done before or since, a more impressive feat than you might think.
The idea is impressively theatrical for a teen movie: Five teens show up at Shermer High School for Saturday detention, where they’ll have to write an essay on who they think they are. All the kids represent different archetypes, of course, and by the end of the day, they’ll all have exposed each other’s fears and learned that, for all their supposed differences, there really isn’t that much that separates them.
Instead of her usual waifish misfit, Molly Ringwald, as Claire, plays a princess-y rich girl (which, come to think of it, is pretty much as prissy and self-important as her misfit roles, just with more expensive clothes). Anthony Michael Hall, not surprisingly, plays the brain, while Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy are, respectively, the jock and Goth basket case. All three of them do some of the best work of their careers, which were, admittedly, already peaking by this early Brat Pack stage. The exception would probably be the thick-headed Estevez, who doesn’t do a terribly convincing job of imbuing his wrestler character with a soul.
But all eyes are ever on Bender, the loud, pissy metalhead punk, played by Judd Nelson at his most arrogant and charismatic. The other kids are more than willing to simply buckle down and doze through their wasted day in the school library, suffering the occasional taunts of their sadistic principal (Paul Gleason, loud, tired, and bullying, the prototypical educator who’s spent a few too many years in the trenches and has a frightening amount of resentment towards his charges). But Bender goes off like a hand grenade every few minutes, enraging the principal, starting fights with the jock, coming on to the princess, mocking the brain. The whole situation could easily dissolve into complete chaos, and probably would with a normal group of people. But these are teenagers, who we must remember are an odd, mercurial bunch, and so it isn’t long before all five have joined in the back of the library, smoking Bender’s pot and bonding over tales of how parents just don’t understand.
It isn’t unusual for a teen movie to make the not-so-shocking observation that Hey, we’re not that different after all! But normally such a revelation comes at the school prom, or at a party or some other situation where the moment can be presided over by an applauding group of onlookers. The Breakfast Club keeps everything under a tight lid, taking these five kids and letting the outside world recede until all that matters is each other. They leave the school at the end with claims that they’ll be different in the outside world; you don’t know if they will, and in a sense it doesn’t matter, because at least for one day they connected with somebody outside of their own tiny worlds. In that sense, it’s the best After-School Special ever, with better music and no lecture about their language and all that pot they smoked.
The picture transfer on the ‘High School Reunion’ DVD is passable, but just barely, and there’s no extras to speak of. Hopefully in the future Universal will put out a special edition that will include the TV broadcast edit – which is how most of my peers saw the movie for the first time – with all the jerkily-dubbed-over language, which seems somehow a more appropriate viewing environment.