'The Breakfast Club' Turns 30
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we were all teenagers once.
By John Clare
In 1985, a film about five teens bonding during detention managed to distill a moment, a mood, the teenage zeitgeist of the time — and trap it in celluloid amber. The Breakfast Club, like the other John Hughes’ movies that followed it — Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful — defined how millions of kids looked, thought and walked for the rest of the decade. Thirty years on, with all things ’80s making a comeback, The Breakfast Club still resonates and seems to transcend generations. It topped the box office back then, and in 2006 still ranked as the No. 1 high school movie according to Entertainment Weekly. So why are we still in love with the teens of Shermer High?
In his book, John Hughes and Eighties Cinema: Teenage Hopes and American Dreams, Dr. Thomas A. Christie explores why films largely populated by wealthy teens in 1980s Illinois still matter to so many worldwide. He explains that while ’70s teen films like Grease and American Graffiti looked back in time, in the ’80s it was all about the moment. Hughes’ characters were teenagers who sounded like modern teenagers — unpolished. The original reality show, if you will.
Not all of the cast was under 20, but they were young enough to remember what being a teenager was like. Combined with their talent and the license Hughes gave them to improvise, the effect was believable, the dialog razor sharp and funny. The characters offer an array of personalities to relate to: from rebel and jock to eccentric, geek and prom queen.
It’s dead time, and they are all simmering with trapped energy and teenage angst.
The happenstance scenario also draws viewers in. “Five completely different people who would never actually choose to spend time together are forced to engage,” says Christie. These kids are in detention — it’s dead time, and they are all simmering with trapped energy and teenage angst. In parallel with the detention-bound students, viewers are in for a slow burn: you don’t realize you’re hooked on these peoples’ stories until the day (and the film) is halfway over.
Hughes used music extensively to reflect his teen characters’ emotions, blending it with the action. His films shared an aesthetic with the bands they featured, and some of the songs became synonymous with the movies. It may have been the early days for MTV, but Hughes’ movies could feel like feature-length music videos, with entire scenes seemingly built around a song. None more than this iconic, wordless scene.
Original fans are now middle-aged, but The Breakfast Club will always speak to current and former teens who, rich Illinois youths or not, see in it a textured portrayal of their formative years. So crank up the Simple Minds and let that “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” conjure the image of Judd Nelson’s fist punching the Chicago suburban air.
- John Clare, OZY Author Contact John Clare