Movie Musings – The Breakfast Club

OK – I admit it. I’m a big old 80’s culture-vulture.

I love the way that the decade progressed – from the black-and white, labour intensive, frugal, industrial seventies through an explosion of colour, wealth, excesses, technology, and a delight in overt bad fashion sense.

Music brought us out of Punk and into new wave electronica, New Romanticism, and a proliferation of American ‘hair-bands’, delivering a bunch of saccharine-laden soft-rock ballads.

Television decided that the traditional sitcom was dead, and that what we really wanted was edgy, yoof-culture shows. Cue The Tube, and the introduction of Paula Yates and Terry Christian on our screens instead of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Welcome also to The Young Ones instead of Terry and June. If you missed them, they were basically the same, except that Terry and June contained more violent vomiting and less lentils…..

Above all, the 1980s brought us an explosion of movies – many of which now have a cult following.

Action flicks peaked with John McTiernan’s utterly brilliant Die Hard, which taught us all:

  • How to overcome jet-lag by making ‘fists with your toes’ when you get to the hotel
  • How to successfully wear a dirty white vest
  • How a ‘real’ baddie should be portrayed
  • What can happen to a street cop when he overdoses on Twinkies
  • Above all – what a proper, full-on action movie should look like

Musicals brought us Spinal Tap, The Blues Brothers, and Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo…… yeah.

The 1980s is best remembered though, as the decade of the Teen Romcom. And in amongst the many, many movies released, the best had one single name attached: John Hughes.

Hughes was the master of his genre. Forget the disasters that befell his latter career. Ignore Home Alone 3 (and 4). In his heyday during the mid to late 80s, he could be funny, sad, angst-ridden, action-packed, full of hope, laden with despair, all in the same movie.

Let us, therefore, examine one of the best known of his films: The Breakfast Club.

Basically, it’s a one-trick flick. Five kids have all been naughty, and they get to spend six hours together in detention on a Saturday. The kids are all distinctly different from each other, the supervising teacher is a pompous ass who believes his own yearbook cuttings, and the only other character is the seldom seen school janitor, who, in his own words, “sees everything and knows everything”.

That’s pretty much it.

The five kids all sit perfectly in their cliques, niches, and expectations. There’s Andrew Clark, star of the school wrestling team – a kid driven by his father’s desire for success above all else, who is struggling to live up to his father’s ideal but can’t see an alternative. There’s Claire Standish, climbing up the purse strings of her rich Daddy, never wanting for anything that she can just ask for and stunned that her father didn’t buy her out of this one. There’s Brian Johnson – socially inept but academically high-flying. A lack of skills in practical subjects like metal shop mean that his overall grade average will slip to a B, and he can’t or won’t deal with this ‘failure’. There’s Allison Reynolds – visually she’s a basket-case, keeping herself to herself, with dark clothes, black eyeliner, long black hair, and a barrier between her and the rest of the world. Finally, there’s John Bender. Hard, mean, abusive, John isn’t happy unless he has something to be violently unhappy about. And he’s always in detention.

The real trick in this movie though, is how each one changes, as their forced interaction slowly tears down the walls they had placed around themselves. And by the end of the movie, each one recognises a little of the other four in their own characters. As their letter to Mr Vernon at the end states: Each one is an athlete, or a princess, or a brain, or a basket-case, or a criminal. And it took the destruction of their own concepts and ideals by the very people they protected themselves against, to acheive this.

Many people have speculated, in thousands of fan-fiction stories, what Monday morning at school would have been like. Would the social norms have reasserted themselves? Or would the five have the courage to remain independent, remain friends, back in the real world.

We’ll never know, I guess……


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