The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Back in the early 1980s, when black characters were still sometimes played by white actors in dark make-up and onscreen naked flesh always belonged to a body double, it was rare to see a real teenager in a movie. John Hughes changed all that. With The Breakfast Club he launched the careers of a new generation of actors - the Brat Back - and reinvented the teenager for the first time since James Dean.

Okay, strictly speaking, not all the young stars in The Breakfast Club actually were teenagers, but they were close enough in age to play them convincingly and Hughes' sharp script perfectly captured the essence of teenage lives. The film revolves around five high school students kept together in detention, where they are required to write an essay explaining who each of them thinks they are. Though they see through this exercise for the shallow, poorly judged attempt to induce conformity that it is, as the day wears on they really do come to learn something about themselves - most notably, that they were not as different from each other as they had thought.

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Hughes himself was an outcast at school, and happy to admit it. He said it gave him the opportunity to develop better musical taste (something which shows in his films), and it apparently also gave him shrewd powers of observation. Though they are archetypes with a predictable assortment of problems at home, the young people in his story all come across as real - easy for fellow teenagers to identify with and poignant for adults to watch, as they make so many familiar mistakes. There are the sports star (Estévez) and A-grade student (Hall), both of whom hate the way they're pushed to succeed; there's the popular girl (Ringwald), secretly miserable because of the breakdown in her parents' marriage; there's the destructive rebel (Nelson), a victim of violence at home; and there's the sullen, kleptomaniac goth (Sheedy), who, for all her remoteness, is the only one who really seems comfortable with who she is (sadly, this leads to a misjudged ending where we're told she'll really be happier when she's been made to look like everyone else). Over the course of the film they move from mutual mistrust to a sadness that, once it's over, they may lose their new friendship as they return to their former cliques.

What makes this film still stand out today is the deft way it explores teenage relationships with the edge of cruelty that has come to dominate the genre in latter years. True, some of the characters are mean to each other, but there's always the sense that they are all decent people underneath. It's a remarkably optimistic portrait of a generation which, their principal remarks in concern, will be running the world one day. Now that they really are of an age to do so, that generation might do well to look back on The Breakfast Club and remember what it was like when friendship meant so much.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2009
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Five high school students discover what they have in common as they spend a day in detention together.
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Director: John Hughes

Writer: John Hughes

Starring: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason

Year: 1985

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Bradford 2010

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