Image Credit: Universal Pictures
It’s day 38 of lockdown and here I am picking a movie about people stuck in a room for our MUSE Film Club, how oddly appropriate. This was entirely coincidental. But when you think about it, what better way to reminisce about hanging out with your friends than watching a movie about ‘friends’ hanging out?
The Breakfast Club falls under the often-overlooked genre of ensemble films because it follows a handful of characters instead of one protagonist. The benefit of this? It allows for a very authentic portrayal of a friendship group. The downside? A handful of cynical people might see it as nothing more than a ‘boring’ movie where a bunch of teenagers just sit around and have a chat about their petty high school problems, essentially just waiting for time to pass. And they’re not wrong. But if you just sit back and enjoy while a group of five students come together to plan the most successful intellectual revolution ever seen in a detention, you might just see the charm and timeless appeal of a movie like this.
The director, John Hughes, is often praised for understanding and perfectly capturing the essence of American teenagers in the 1980s; a bunch of eccentric young adults collectively angry at nothing in particular. This movie hits you a certain way when you’re fifteen, in the midst of your teenage angst years, and it hits you again in an entirely different way when you’re twenty-one and reminiscing about your angry teenage self when you were fifteen. For a movie to be able to do that in the first place is incredibly powerful.
In a 1999 interview Hughes stated, “my generation has sucked up so much attention, and here were these kids struggling for an identity. They were forgotten.” Because of this, The Breakfast Club became a cultural statement more than anything else. What these characters were saying became almost secondary, what was really important was the fact that they were saying something.
As the movie progresses, the feeling of hanging out with these characters in detention seems like a privilege. It is almost as if as an audience we’re given exclusive access to seeing how this strangely satisfying combination of diverse characters bounce off each other. There are no spectacles (other than an iconic hallway chase sequence) but that plays entirely to the film’s advantage, as we get to know these characters well.
This premise allowed for the actors to fully embody their characters, so much so that they ultimately created one of the most emblematic improvised scenes of all times. The scene where the five characters are sitting on the floor about halfway through the film having a heartfelt conversation that seems to go for hours was completely unscripted. The questions they ask each other in that context and the answers they give while in character are nothing short of brilliant and go to show just how multi-layered and well-written these characters are.
As the characters need to be flashed out before us in a matter of minutes, these films with ensemble casts are often criticised for heavily relying on stereotypical character traits. But to whoever argues that The Breakfast Club enforces stereotypes, well darling, I recommend going back and watching it again. It shows us these characters through a stereotypical lens solely for the purpose of debunking them by the end of the movie. In the final scene, the five students leave a note to the principal where they refer to themselves as the criminal, the princess, the athlete, the brain and the basket case, but by that point in the story these labels have lost all meaning and have become so arbitrary, that the very mention of them seems ironic.
Even though the movie is now very well regarded among critics, this wasn’t always the case. Upon its release in 1985, it received mixed reviews and well, let’s just say it didn’t exactly make millions at the box office. However, it did age incredibly well. Over ten years after its opening weekend, a film critic from The Voice wrote a follow up article on the movie where he acknowledged the long-lasting cultural impact that the movie had and said, “Dear John, wherever you are: we were wrong.” Now, ten years later, The Breakfast Club stands as a cult classic that defined a generation and it still fills my heart up with joy and excitement every time. I’ll probably revisit it in another 10 years’ time - stay tuned.