While a film can be technically marvelous and have all the bells and whistles of modern special effects and camera techniques, it is nothing without a tight script and great characters. If there isn’t a strong set of characters, each with interesting motivations and distinct personalities, why should we even care if your film is a technical masterwork? This focus on great characters is what makes my sixth favourite movie of all time so great. That movie is John Hughes’ seminal masterpiece, The Breakfast Club.
The Breakfast Club is the High School Drama to end all High School Dramas. Taking every theme and idea from high school movies of the past, John Hughes crafts a timeless tale that puts the rest of the genre to shame. While the film is masterfully made from a technical perspective, and I will discuss that, it is the writing and the characters that I will be focusing on the most.
The Breakfast Club tells the story of five high school kids: Bender, Andy, Claire, Allison, and Brian. Each of these kids is given detention on a Saturday. During this day, they are forced to write a 1000 word essay on who they believe they are by their hardnosed principal. Starting the day off as clashing personalities, each being antagonized and annoyed by each other, they start to learn more about each other, and how they came to be here on that day. By the end of the day, they become friends (some of them more than that), and their lives are changed forever.
This film is absolutely amazing. Fantastic script, great characters and performances (The Brat Pack are one of the best ensemble casts ever, with Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson giving career performances as Andy and Bender), great cinematography, amazing sound design, great soundtrack, etc.
While the star of the show is the script, the technical aspects cannot be ignored. The editing and sound in particular are the standouts. Unique sound and music cues help accentuate emotions in such a brilliant way (that cacophonous clash of instruments when Bender screams “Fuck you!” is brilliant). The soundtrack as well, is amazing. Along with the original score, the iconic Simple Minds song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” sets the stage, but the rest of the soundtrack is full of 80s bangers. The cuts and camera work is also superb. Hughes knew how to frame the shot and cut to what was important, accentuating a certain characters emotion or building tension.
But that technical brilliance is nothing without the characters and script. As mentioned earlier, the movie starts with clashing personalities. Andy, a star athlete on the straight and narrow; Brian, a straight A student who some would call a “nerd”; Bender, a delinquent criminal who causes nothing but trouble; Claire, the preppy prom queen who is adored by all; and Allison, a mentally ill loner who comes off as strange and unbalanced. When the movie begins, Bender and Andy are at each other throats, Brian is disregarded as a dweeb, Claire and Bender hate each other’s guts, and Allison is merely a silent onlooker.
But as the movie progresses, the characters bond and we learn more about their home life and what brought them to this day. Andy felt pressured by his family to be a winner at all costs, which caused him to bully another kid in the school locker room; Bender reveals an abusive home life, which makes the others more sympathetic of his standoffish attitude. Brian failed shop class, which he thought was going to be an easy ride (which insulted Bender), and considered suicide. Allison is a compulsive liar in order to get the attention that she doesn’t get from her parents. I could literally write an essay explaining each character and how they play into the theme of the movie, but I won’t, because we would be here all day. Hell, even the principal and the janitor get character moments. The principal feels disrespected by all the kids in the school, while the janitor feels that time has passed him by.
All these character moments all play into a simple but universal theme of understanding and tolerance. It is a complete evisceration of high school clique culture. We learn that people are more than the labels that are attached to them, and when we get to know the real human being behind that curtain, we see that we all have similar problems and similar struggles. Bender and Claire fall in love, realizing they are two sides of the same coin; Andy and Allison fall in love, with Andy realizing that underneath all the lying and unstable behaviour is a beautiful soul who just needs care. All their initial prejudices and assumptions are thrown aside, and we are left with five kids who are bonded for life. The final shot, with Bender walking away and raising his fist in the air, shows a man who thinks that maybe life can get better and he can let people in.
Overall, this film is a masterpiece, and one the best films of the decade. It is an iconic piece of pop culture in every respect, and mandatory viewing. I really don’t think I need to say anything more, so I’ll just leave you with the final letter written by the characters to the principal, which so neatly and brilliantly starts and ends the film:
Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.
Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.
10 out of 10