United by a common affliction: youth, John Hughes’ iconic The Breakfast Club presents a clichÃ© of teenagers from all corners of the social spectrum trapped together, who only reach an understanding of one another during an 8 hour Saturday detention. The criminal (Judd Nelson), jock (Emilio Estevez), prom queen (Molly Ringwald), weirdo (Ali Sheedy) and geek (Anthony Michael Hall) establish in just a few hours that their social standings in high school aren’t as rigid and unyielding as they initially thought.
Situated in the largest high school library that I have ever seen (in life and film), the students are supervised by the anally- retentive teacher (Paul Gleason). He manifests all of the blatant and frequently damaging stereotypes which adults project onto teenagers. The performances from all five delinquents culminate in an exuberant weed smoking session followed by a touching denouncement, establishing their similarities as human beings and teenagers. Their gradual revelations ground commonalities and begin to break down each of their personal barriers. The film produces moments of charm (though short lived), when princess Claire gives the weirdo a makeover, when brainy Brian reveals his attempted suicide, and when the theatrical Bender re-enacts a typical family scene. After struggling with social standings, divisive homes and the fear held by us all: that we’ll become exactly like their parents; they turn to the question of whether this bizarre Saturday experience can unite them when they return to school on Monday morning. The audience, meanwhile is left asking, do we really care?
Nothing happens in The Breakfast Club which is particularly surprising. The student’s truths are more or less predictable, exploring the many expectations and failures which come with every coming of age story. As the BMW rolls up outside the school we know that the spoilt little rich girl is robbed of her parent’s affections, that the athlete can never live up to his parent’s expectations, whilst the criminal’s parents don’t even know or care about his whereabouts. Perhaps what ‘The Breakfast Club’ should be credited it for is its dialogue. Teeming with colloquiums and idioms, the characters’ speech reflects how teenagers genuinely speak. Their articulation of their daily challenges (although not innovative), are relatable, and thus we find ourselves emotionally involved or attached to a particular individual who represented ourselves at High School.
If we’ve seen it all before, why do we carry on watching for the next hour and a half? Because we want to know why. These students must have all done something pretty extreme to warrant an all day Saturday detention. Therefore as the archetypal scenes unfold, we are less concerned with them finally understanding one another and more for when they are going to spill the beans as to why they are there.
The Breakfast Club may not offer its audiences anything ground-breaking or new, but it does remind us of our own High School experiences and of the pressures put on by ourselves and adults into maintaining an “image”. Stereotypical characters break stereotypical boundaries confirming what we’ve all known and experienced before, being a teenager is “just so unfair!”