It all started with "that" song and that unforgettable riff - Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’. A black screen with a David Bowie quote, letting us know that they were speaking our language, they were on our side. And then it shatters right in front of our face, just like our preconceived notations by the end of the film. The beat continues as the disembodied voice of an adolescent, one of our own, sets the scene... Saturday March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer Illinois.
You may not know his name, but you know his movies. Without winning or even being nominated for a single Oscar, the ceremony following his death in 2009 dedicated an entire segment to him, reuniting past players, such was John Hughes’ impact on the cinema landscape, but more importantly our lives. You’ve no doubt quoted one of his lines, seen a spoofed scene (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) or heard people talk about their favourite Hughes film with an unmatched reverence.
John Hughes was - or is, however you want to remember him - an auteur of adolescence. When talked or written about, the word “quintessential” is often used, but no more so than when referring to ‘The Breakfast Club’. Hughes’ first written but second directed film after ‘Sixteen Candles’, John reunited two of his stars Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, a little older, a little wiser and a lot more famous, along with Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy. This quintet were the founding members of the Brat Pack - a group of 80s superstars often found in Hughes' movies and, as a result, became Hollywood royalty.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB - TRAILER
‘The Breakfast Club’ brings together five varied high school stereotypes - the Brain, the Athlete, the Basket case, the Princess and the Criminal - and sticks them in a school library for the next 8 hours and 44 minutes to fulfil their Saturday detention punishment. They start as enemies, they leave as friends. For the next 97 minutes, Hughes turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. With his gift for dialogue, partnered with a killer soundtrack, Hughes is the king of saying so much with so little. Take the scene where each character unpacks their lunch, whether it’s a plate of sushi, a shopping bag filled with enough to feed everyone, a well-balanced meal, a simple sandwich transformed into a sugary delight, or nothing at all. All of it an ingenious gateway to discussing home life, and the conflict continues. What it all boils down to is, popular, rich, poor, talented, smart or none of the above, when you’re a teenager we all have things in common: parents suck. School sucks. The pressure to succeed is too much. The desire to not become our parents is overwhelming but inevitable, screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place. Divorce, drugs, suicide, physical and emotional abuse and bullying are all on the menu of this angst-ridden drama that still manages to pack in the laughs.
30 years on there aren’t many films - especially of this nature - that can still draw a crowd quite like ‘The Breakfast Club.’ They’re the best friends we never had, but always wish we did.
The film is set almost entirely in a single location but more importantly, Hughes chose to shoot the entire film in consecutive order. Rare back in the day and even rarer by today’s standards. The young cast (Ringwald and Hall only 17 at the time) were given free reign to explore their characters naturally, in this unnatural environment, making it all seem so real and plausible, *sigh* yes, even if there does happen to be a dance sequence, a makeover, a scene where they’re all sitting around smoking pot, and that they all actually show up for Saturday detention.
Year after year, John Hughes continued to contribute classic after classic to the 80s and early 90s lexicon, including ‘Ferris Bueller's Day Off’, ‘Weird Science’, ‘Uncle Buck’ and ‘Home Alone’, as well as delivering members to the now infamous Brat Pack. A lot of John’s movies were great and fun but it was always ‘The Breakfast Club’ that was something so much more. It was a film that we could love, admire and consider special at the time, but its full weight has only truly been appreciated with time and age. It was a film that spoke to youth on their level without being preaching. There was a little something for everyone, a little everyone in someone we saw up on that screen, and a lot a somethings that we never had the courage to say ourselves, until then.
Still seen on program lists over the summer of pop-up outdoor cinemas, your local retro movie house or independent cinema, 30 years on there aren’t many films - especially of this nature - that can still draw a crowd quite like ‘The Breakfast Club.’ They’re the best friends we never had, but always wish we did.