Who would have thought that the John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club would still be Hollywood’s best attempt at understanding and then destroying stereotypes? Most of Hollywood’s forays into this realm are nauseatingly patronizing and unrealistic. However, a teen movie out of the alleged “Decade of Greed” successfully shows us what it is like to be different and, at the same time, how we are the same.
The Breakfast Club is a collection of high school students who attend a Saturday detention for each of their indiscretions. The movie introduces us to the characters as the stereotypes that each student considers the other: the Nerd (Hall), the Beauty (Ringwald), the Jock (Estevez), the Rebel (Nelson), and the recluse (Sheedy). Also, we are introduced to another stereotype; the mean overbearing teacher. Paul Gleason (the KING of all character actors) is Mr. Vernon, the teacher in charge of Saturday detention.
While in detention, Mr. Vernon gives them a simple assignment. They must write an essay about “who you think you are.” Each person has a good idea of what the other is. Yet, through several discussions and arguments, they learn that they have more similarities than at first sight. The Rebel, John Bender, initially focuses his anger at Andrew the Jock and Claire the Beauty. His outward hatred towards their “good life” masks his hurt about his own life. In reality, Claire just wishes her parents gave a damn about her, and Andrew wishes he had the guts to stand up to his overbearing father. All three seem to think Brian the Nerd is the “perfect son” and doesn’t have the same problems. My only character complaint is that Allison the Recluse is not developed nearly as well as the other cast members. Her problems are more self-created in order try to get attention but at the same time, keep people away.
Each has his or her own problems and as insignificant as they might appear, to a teenager, they are everything. This is what this movie captures the best. If anything, the teenage years are a time of self-consciousness and angst. When we look back at it, it seems a little ridiculous. Yet, at that point in our lives, it is important. Parents don’t get it and teachers don’t get it.
The movie does an outstanding job of deconstructing the stereotypes of the kids. However, The Breakfast Club misses a chance to do the same with stereotypes about adults. Mr. Vernon is almost comical in how mean-spirited he is. The typical mean teacher who is more put off by kids than anything. During a scene with Mr. Vernon and the custodian, Carl (Kapelos), Hughes begins to get inside the character of the teacher. When he bemoans that the students have changed, Carl tells him “No, you’ve changed”. Hughes stopped there but he could have introduced humanity into Mr. Vernon several times by having him at least show a facial expression of regret for his actions. Actually, there is one brief scene. After a verbal tête-à-tête with Bender early in the movie, you see Mr. Vernon pause just for a second as he leaves the detention hall. Yet, the movie does not expound on this. I suspect that Hughes planned to develop this subplot but dropped it when he realized his target audience had zero interest in a non-stereotypical teacher.
Some critique the ending of the movie for being a little too contrived. Those people weren’t paying attention during the middle of the film. In a normal Hollywood movie, they would have all become best buddies. This movie, on the other hand, admits that come Monday, they probably won’t be friends. The biggest truth about high school is missed here. Most kids, while saying they want to be seen as more than a stereotype, will never take that risk. Come Monday, they will each return to their comfort zone rather than risk the ridicule of their “friends”. So while the ending leaves us with the idea that the Jock hooks up with the Recluse, the Rebel has found his Princess, and the Nerd, er…might have a couple of friends, we could also leave with the opposite idea. Come Monday, the Jock and the Beauty might be back with their kind, the Rebel might go back to hating everybody, and the Nerd and Recluse might still be ignored in the hallway. Yet, Hughes leaves that to us. How you feel about the ending might be due to which stereotype you most represent yourself with.
The DVD features for this movie are pretty bare-boned. This is the first time it appears on widescreen format with a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic image and that is a plus. The options are limited to tidbits about the production of the movie and cast bios. The only other option is that the menu screens feature scenes from the movie. While extras are disappointingly missing, The Breakfast Club is still a must own DVD for any child of the 80s.
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