No film about adolescence has stood the test of time quite like John Hughes’ ode to forced school on a Saturday quite like “The Breakfast Club”. A quintessential 80’s flick, released slap dab in the middle of the decade, was a rounding success at the time of its release and then went on to become a fevered favorite among those looking for something that spoke to the painful purgatory of the teen caste system just prior to budding adulthood. It is unequivocally seminal and ingrained as a touchstone for 80s pop culture and sensibilities, replete with actors, dialogue, wardrobe, and music that are sketched eternally into the memory of the epoch and beyond. All particular ingredients find that moment in time to stay somehow eternal.
To start it off, there is Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) as the brain, the non-threatening kid known for good grades and probably too nice to ever actually annoy you despite his awkwardness and nerd sensibilities. There is Andrew (Emilio Estevez) as the understated, mild jock who holds his self to a high disciplinary standard set by himself and his parents much to his inner torture. Claire (Molly Ringwald) is a virgin “priss” who would rather be shopping in another country who famously introduced sushi to the unwashed masses of American audiences. Allison (Ally Sheedy) manifests herself into the basket case-weirdo who seems to be proto-Goth but also loves Prince (the best character of the bunch by far), and finishing it out is John Bender (Judd Nelson), a blowhard of a kid, who proudly does not give a shit, and will probably be in jail soon after school ends.
These five uh, delinquents are called into a Saturday detention and soon become entrenched with each other and soon assemble together to rebel against the hard-ass assistant principal (Paul Gleason) who probably hates being there as much as the kids do. Throughout the daylong confinement, they fight boredom, argue, explore, bond, dance, and through eventual soul-searching, realize that they may, in fact, be more alike than not.
“The Breakfast Club” is not only successful in identifying and distilling the five stereotypes (character-types if you are truly paying attention), but also that it deconstructs them with nuance and depth rarely felt of its era or since. Hughes crafted each typecast out of a slice of himself and his own personality, down to specific details, interests, and predilection. Hughes’ script never seems heavy or over-confrontational. Half the fun is finding out each character and how they tick. Also, the acting from the young cast, in particular, is tremendous and services the material almost like a stage play. It is also hard to picture anybody outside the cast actually doing these parts or doing them quite this splendidly.
The rudiments of angst, brooding, catharsis, and introspection are used to deliver not this message of understanding, but that of hope of better generations. The film does not answer the mystery if these teens will abandon their superficiality and actually be better people come Monday morning, but that does not stop the viewer from confronting the same prejudices within their own reality. Rarely does art, especially about teenagers, deliver that successfully. With 30 years behind us, some of the cracks do show. There is a lack of minority characters, race is never brought up, and some of Bender’s moves on Claire are a relic of 80s typical sexual harassment played for laughs. The film is far from perfect despite its strengths.
The morality of the film is predicated upon that we are more alike than we are different, despite our inherit dissimilarities. Pain no matter where you sit or disposition in life, is inescapable. While I still cede with many that Allison should not have been made “pretty” by Claire and then thereby getting with Andy, it does speak larger that she’s no longer afraid of those around her. Each character evolves and changes by the end, but only that one stings with certain betrayal in upheaval.
“The Breakfast Club” while not only beloved, is still a powerful film that achieves a goal that is rarely attained, never mind the fact the film largely centers on melodrama and the plight of teenagers stuck in detention. While aspects of the film are assuredly dated, the plight it addresses is not as generations beyond still fall for its charms. Films just seldom become this quotable and this iconic in the nomenclature of culture while still steeped in its own period.
Undoubtedly Hughes’ clever writing felt natural along with taking these teenage protagonists seriously with an authenticity rarely felt. That specific magic, the subtle craftsmanship, comes through in a lot of Hughes’ writing of that time, as he would go on create in mass a repertoire of pivotal works that seems impossible to delineate from that particular period for film. Hughes essentially created a distinct category for the way his films operate and feel, much embedded in the fabric of film today. Frankly, we haven’t had a writer-director like John Hughes since, and “The Breakfast Club” is proof of that.
“The Breakfast Club” comes to the Criterion Collection for the first time in a wonderful 4K digital transfer, uncompressed monaural soundtrack with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD master audio soundtrack for the Blu-Ray. With such a popular release on their hands, the CC surely does not disappoint those who view Hughes as not only an important voice in film but perhaps the most important when it comes to teenagerdom or popular culture of the 80s. Universal’s old Blu-Ray transfer left a lot to be desired, so this release already one-ups the previous. Also from that release, included is audio commentary featuring actors Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson from the previous 2008 Universal release. It’s a good carry-over as they do a good job ruminating what’s happening on screen with insights on challenges as actors they themselves faced. One worthy addition from that release also makes it onto this, is the 50-minute documentary featuring interviews with cast, crew.
For something more recent, new interviews with Molly Shannon and Ally Sheedy have been included. Also, there are rare, unreleased on-set interviews with Nelson, Sheedy, and the cast and crew during the filming that have been added. These pieces are good glimpses into the mindset of the crew and the young actors. Also featured are two quite enlightening audio interviews with Hughes, one from 1985 American Film Institute seminar, and another from a 1999 radio show “Sound Opinions” that specifically detail making “The Breakfast Club”.
A segment from “The Today Show” featuring the five primary cast members is included, the film’s trailer and a brand new video featurette of Nelson reading early production notes from Hughes’ notebooks. An episode featuring Ringwald is also included in which her daughter discusses her feelings for the film after first watching it. An essay by author and critic David Kamp is also included.
As far as “The Breakfast Club” goes, this is the definitive edition and an amazing release on its own.
The Breakfast Club
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray
Photo Credit: The Movie Theme Song