Monday, 22 June 2009

John Hughes: The Brat Pack films that defined an era Part Three: The Breakfast Club

Once in a generation, there is a film so definitive, that perfectly captures the concerns and motivations of a certain chunk of the populace that it becomes a perfect snapshot of a time and place, an animated history book if you will. The Breakfast Club is just such a film, and is far and away the John Hughes movie that is dearest to my heart, and the hearts of many film lovers the world over (Kevin Smith, for example, is a huge fan of The Breakfast Club). While yes, very little actually happens in the film action-wise, there is a staggering amount of stuff going on with those five characters.

The premise is simple. Five mis-matched teenagers are trapped in school on a Saturday for a special detention period. All of them have their different reasons for getting stuck there, and all of them are wary of the others. Over the course of ninety minutes they discover more about themselves and each other than they ever expected to. They form friendships, vent about life and bare their souls to a much greater extent than you generally see in teen films. There is tension and conflict aplenty as the five main characters struggle to understand each others' backgrounds and personalities, and the limited setting gives the distinct impression that this would work brilliantly as a stage play.

Humour is there in spades. But it is the interaction between the characters, and their gradual move towards friendship, that is truly great here. The chemistry between the five leads (Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall) is breathtaking, and as these five archetypes of teenage school life, they capture the insecurities of that time of life impeccably. Aside from one teacher, the janitor, and some brief glimpses of the kids' parents, the whole film is played out by the five leads, and largely in one room. It is a fascinating look at what happens when you stick a bunch of people together who think they have nothing in common- a common ground will be found eventually.

The Breakfast Club is a cathartic masterpiece of 80s cinema that has lost little of its power even now, almost 25 years after its release. Its trademark theme tune, 'Don't you forget about me' (By Simple Minds) fits perfectly, the cast are uniformly good (with the five main players finding their feet as actors just as much as the characters are finding their feet as people), and the script is an immaculate looks at the perceptions we have of others as youngsters.

Glimpses at the home lives of the characters (through their conversations) fill out their personalities beautifully. The iconic heated exchange between Andrew (Estevez) and John (Nelson), in which their home lives are explored (giving rise to the famous 'Do I stutter?' line) is very tense- these are teenagers and they are unpredictable once their tempers rise- and the payoff is very satisfying. The climax to the film is beautifully handled, and (aside from Ally Sheedy's makeover) remains true to the characters instead of giving us a neat, Hollywood style ending.

The characters evolve and move on, everyone learns there's more to life than their own path, and the audience is left feeling they have changed a little too. The Breakfast Club may be about five very clear stereotypes, but as its fans will agree, there is a little of each of them in all of us.

This is about as perfect as a commercial film can be. Both written and directed by John Hughes, it is an early gem in the decade that defined his career as an active filmmaker.

1 comment:

DaveZ said...

Amen. The Breakfast Club was a great combination of comedy and depth. Why are we subjected to crap like "There's Something about Mary", "Tropic Thunder", or whatever the crotch comedy du jour happens to be. There is no effort made for this kind of genuineness.