It has been opined that "The Breakfast Club" is the best of John Hughes' teen flicks. The others---"Sixteen Candles", "Pretty in Pink", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", and "Some Kind of Wonderful"---deal with similar themes, but they follow more conventional story arcs.
In "The Breakfast Club" five students spend eight hours together in the high school library for an all-day detention. On Saturday. During that time, they are forced, by proximity, to interact and to better understand each other.
When they first enter the library, they are strangers. Though they attend the same school, they are separated by cliques and class. Hughes uses various methods in his wonderful script to make them or allow them to see beyond the boundaries of peer pressure and group conformity.
When we first meet them, we think we know them, based upon outward appearances and our own personal experiences. When I attended high school, there was a girl who was athletic, attractive and who always had a smile on her face. She was a cheerleader, which contributed to her popularity. Years after high school, I had the opportunity to get to know her personally and I discovered that she had a home life that was far from idyllic, it not dysfunctional. She dealt with stresses that belied her confident, seemingly happy, behavior.
In this film, director and writer Hughes shows us the realities behind the facades. He uses a number of techniques in the process. First, the students are united in their opposition to the adult authority figure that is Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), who is charged with maintaining order. He is an obnoxious martinet, so it is easy for the kids to form a bond through their dislike of him. Eventually, they become complicit in defying his authority.
The main way Hughes moves the story, creates tension, and reveals (and bonds) the students is through the character of John Bender (Judd Nelson), the sarcastic, anti-establishment rebel who likes to shock. Seemingly, he brings no lunch for the day. Nelson handles this central role with aplomb. Surprisingly, we find that he is probably the most intelligent person in the group. In later life he might become an artist, always offering a critical eye, challenging conventions. But for now he exhorts raw emotions and pushes the exposition of the story. At one point, he sacrifices himself for the group, further bonding them.
Other methods used in the script to bond the five are one-on-one conversations, whistling in unison, music and dance (used as catharsis), smoking marijuana, exploring the contents of purses and wallets, and, eventually, group conversations.
Claire (Molly Ringwald) is the well-connected social butterfly. She is popular and virginal. She brings sushi for lunch in a bento box.
Andrew (Emilio Estevez) is the jock. Like a white knight, he is a winner who stands up for principles. He and Claire can socialize, because they dwell in the upper strata of school society. He's a wrestler, and his large lunch is an abundance of calories
Allison (Ally Sheedy) is the most mysterious of the group. An anti-social loner who rarely speaks, she seems to exist in her own inner world. Her lunch is obviously self-made, consisting of a sugar sandwich she constructs from Pixy Stix and Cap'n Crunch.
Brian (Michael Anthony Hall) is the nerd, the straight A student, the college-bound square with no game. He has a fake ID so he can vote. For lunch, he has a thermos of soup, a PB&J sandwich and apple juice.
We also meet Carl, the custodian, who upsets expectations by demonstrating that he is observant, philosophical, and capable of social commentary. He says he is the "eyes and ears of this institution."
As the hours go by, we learn that Bender has an abusive home life, Claire has parents who don't care about her or each other, Andrew is bullied by his father to achieve athletic goals, and Brian brought a gun to school due to academic pressures. Most pathetic of all, Allison is spending her Saturday in detention because she had nothing better to do. She is also a compulsive liar and a kleptomaniac.
Each of the students, like all adolescents, is struggling for self-identification. And an understanding of sexual roles and mores. And how to deal with the pressures of conformity. In the end, they realize that peer pressure will continue to affect them when they return to school on Monday. But they wonder will their new-found friendships continue.
One of the best scenes is when Allison, transformed by a makeover from Claire, presents herself without her face being covered by her untamed hair, and becomes vulnerable. Though she is fearful of their responses to her new face, she is hopeful. On Monday, will she remain that way?
There is never a group hug, but bonds are formed and we see, in various ways, that promises are made. We are left wondering what the new week will bring for the five who found that "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it."
Hughes weaves a complex tale of discovery that rings true and will not go out of fashion for a long time.
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