The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club. Universal Pictures 1985.

Before watching the movie:

Wow. I know absolutely nothing about this movie, even though it’s one everyone knows about. I know that it’s from the 80s, contemporary, and set in a high school. I think  it’s a musical, or at least has a popular soundtrack of pop songs.  I know literally nothing else. It was a big surprise to me that it was rated R.

I have a very simple question to answer this week: Why does everyone love this movie but not talk about it?

After watching the movie:

Five high school stereotypes are sentenced to nine hours of Saturday detention in what appears to be a hotel lobby for various misdemeanors. At first, they are complete strangers and have nothing to do with each other, but eventually through their disparity, a little marijuana, and two hours of sitting around talking, they find common ground and learn how each of them are not stereotypes at all, but real people with real problems that they can help each other overcome.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film that I felt was best described in one sentence: “kids in detention become friends.” The whole thing feels like it was written as a stage play, since there are only two or three sequences that aren’t just conversations between talking heads. The editing and camerawork do their best to keep it visually interesting, but it would work just as well as a play and almost as well as a radio drama (the actors’ visual performances are key to a lot of the heart).

I don’t know how common Saturday detentions are or ever were. My high school’s worst punishment short of suspension was “Friday school,” which was a double-length detention on Friday evenings. I’m also not very sure how well “The Breakfast Club” works as a group name, since they’re there from breakfast to dinner.

The point of the story is overcoming stereotypes and knowing people for who they are, but I felt that some stereotypes were not escaped. Bender turns out to be the disaffected kid from a broken home (though to be fair, it probably wasn’t as cliche back then and this film may have even pioneered the idea of dissecting the rebel), and Allison’s big change brings a makeover that makes her look very generic. I also disagree with Bender and Claire’s resolutions, but that would reveal too much.

That’s entirely enough bashing. Though I have many gripes about the film, my relationship with it mirrored the kids’ relationships with each other. I was bored and antagonistic at first, but I opened up to it as it opened them up to me. The simplicity I bash it for is crucial for the deep, meaningful honesty that makes it such a classic. True to John Hughes’s other work, this movie speaks to the teenage condition to a degree few others can. I even found myself waxing nostalgic for my high school days, remembering events I’d long since forgotten. This is the high school experience Hollywood says I should have had, and it’s the experience I wish I did have.


Watch this movie: if you were ever in high school. Or at least, in high school since the 70s. I can’t say much about before then.

Don’t watch this movie: if you have a short attention span.

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