Bender: Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
The late John Hughes was a man of many cinematic talents in the 80s and 90s in both writing and directing. And among those talents came this movie in 1985. On paper it seems rather simple and not something to heavily think about. In practice however the movie has a lot of substance.
The story involves five teens from different social classes, wrestling jock Andy Clark (Emilio Estevez), shopping and make-up queen Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), bully John Bender (Judd Nelson), the nerdy Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), and the weird Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) all of whom end up serving detention on a Saturday under the supervision of Vice Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) who confines them to the library and forces them to write an essay about who they think they are. Despite having little in common as they spend more time in detention they learn more and more about one another and find out they have more in common than they thought.
Hughes’ writing and direction shines in this movie as the distinctions between all the teens allow the audience to connect to at least one them. It was clever how Hughes framed the five teens in how they were “reprobates.” And the writing does well in showing the teasing, the insulting, and bitterness using it not only to build the commonalities among each other, the emotions they have, and share some unique bonds under the different burdens they carry. In doing all this it scrapes at the layers of these five teens digging deep into who they are and how we connect with them and how they connect with each other. There’s nothing really surprising about the truths revealed among the teens as they are more or less standard but that is not the heart of the movie. The heart is the interactions among the five teens and it feels honest not only through what they talk about but also through the performances.
The pacing for the movie is well done. At times it gets a little episodic but it never fails to entertain in some form or other. By the last third you truly start to understand who these characters are which helps tie into the essay they are supposed to write.
There are a couple of problems with the movie: One is the vice principal seemed too one-dimensional in comparison to the multi-layered students. And despite the movie having some good pacing, the ending felt rather abrupt and it resulted in the last couple minutes felt rather unfocused.
The actors for the five teens however carry this movie brilliantly and pretty much overshadow any weakness this movie may have. Judd Nelson as Bender is a strong part of the film with his aggression knocking down the walls that separate the five. Ringwald as Claire gives a nice sense of naiveté to her entitlement of not having to deal with putting in effort or paying attention to her peers. Sheedy as Allison did well in bringing a sense of mystery to the character. She reveals herself slower than the rest but it works to the movie’s advantage as what we are provided about her keeps the viewer in wonder as the movie continues leaving some questions answered and some left open ended. Then there’s Emilo Estevez as Andy and Anthony Michael Hall as Brian who more or less project the conflict at hand and walk the line between who they are and who they want to be and both ultimately find common ground with them dealing with the pressure from their parents.
The Breakfast Club is a relatively simple concept but has such a unique examination in its characters and life that makes it memorable. It takes five ordinary characters and brings out their soul making them into something more. Its stellar writing, direction, characters, and performances truly set it apart.