John Hughes’ 1985 coming-of-age movie is fondly remembered by many, exemplifying the writer/director’s instinctive understanding of the teenage mindset. And I’m delighted to report that its heart hasn’t died, despite the fact that it’s grown old.
Actually, it’s not all that long since I’ve watched it; it’s one of those films I return to periodically: an easy fix of feelgood catharsis, guaranteed to make me laugh and cry as I wallow in nostalgia, mouthing the words that I know by heart. But I’ve never seen it on the big screen before, so The Cameo’s John Hughes season is very welcome indeed. I seize my chance.
The plot, such as it is, is very simple: five kids, each representing a different high school social group, spend a Saturday together in detention for various misdeeds. During the course of their enforced proximity, they get to know one another. And they learn, famously, that each one of them is, in fact, “a brain, an athlete, a basket-case, a princess and a criminal” – i.e. that they’re more similar and more complex than their stereotypes suggest.
But this isn’t really about plot at all; it’s character-driven drama in its purest form. Nothing happens and everything happens. It’s a journey of self-discovery, and of developing empathy; an expose of the tragedies – both large and small – that drive young people into reckless acts. From the undeniable awfulness of Bender (Judd Nelson)’s homelife – where he’s burned with a cigar for spilling paint on the garage floor – to the peer-pressure heaped on spoilt-little-rich-girl Claire (Molly Ringwald), Hughes’s script recognises the reality of their misery, compounded as it is by the lack of autonomy that comes with the territory.
My favourite moment is when Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) explains the reason he’s in detention: he tried to kill himself because he got an F in ‘shop’ (design technology). It’s painful to watch, and always makes me weep, but then it’s so beautifully undercut by the revelation that he messed the suicide up too, attempting to use a flare gun which went off in his locker, which makes the others laugh despite the gravity of what he’s telling them. It’s glorious.
Emilio Estevez (the athlete) and Ally Sheedy (the basket-case) give excellent performances too (although I still think Allison has more style before the make-over scene than after), as does Paul Gleason as the egocentric teacher, Mr Vernon.
If you haven’t seen The Breakfast Club before, it’s honestly a must. And if you’ve not indulged in it for a while, maybe now’s the time to watch it again. It’s a perfect little film: funny as anything and guaranteed to wring tears from all but the stoniest of viewers.