I was barely 5 years old when “The Breakfast Club” debuted, but as the movie turns 30, I’m happy to not forget about the John Hughes master class in teen angst.
(Cue the Simple Minds theme song.)
The Hughes hits of the ’80s — “Sixteen Candles,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Weird Science,” “Pretty in Pink” — were the cable standards in the ’90s, effectively covering both Generation X and Millennial teens.
But “The Breakfast Club” was his masterpiece. That’s why a bunch of theaters are screening it next week. After three decades, it’s still not old. Hughes’ ability to tell coming-of-age stories with heart and honesty is the stuff that makes John Green books so adored today.
It was the summer before high school when I first saw the film. A Saturday at home is best spent with Hughes.
I got lost and found in detention with Brian, Andrew, Allison, Claire and Bender. That is the magic of this brilliant club that brought together a cross-section of students. Up until that one day in detention they thought they could never be friends. Yet in a closed room, where the options are silence or getting beyond the boxes we put one another in, guards eventually come down and conversation comes easy.
“The Breakfast Club” opened my mind to see beyond labels, to not try so hard to be so cool and to just be myself. I wasn’t a lipstick-trick princess like Claire (Molly Ringwald), but I wasn’t Allison the basket case (Ally Sheedy), either. None of us are any one thing, no matter what mask we choose to wear.
In one part in the movie Claire explains that the detention squad can only be friends in detention, and they all realize the insanity of it all. Even Claire admits it drives her crazy. They all start to see themselves in one another.
And we see Brian the overachiever (Anthony Michael Hall) come undone as he explains the pressure of trying to be perfect. He’s baring his soul at its most broken, made all the more wrenching when we learn he brought a flare gun to school because he was failing shop class. As teens, we often think our problems are bigger than they are. We let them crush and divide us.
Just like that, Hughes smashed cruel social boundaries. I started high school with the attitude that I’d like anyone I wanted to like. In a five-minute scene Hughes wrapped up the lightness of the heavy in teen anxiety. And this is how I ended up with friends from my photography class who painted their nails black and listened to Nirvana; bossy cheerleaders; and baggy-pants-wearing, Wu-Tang-quoting neighborhood kids. It’s why I never had just one social circle.
No one ever asked us who we thought we were, as Mr. Vernon asked the Breakfast Club. But in high school and in the real world, people still try to put you in a box.
As Brian said, “You see us as you want to see us — in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.” But the movie pushes us to get beyond that top layer, to actually see one another.
Breakfast Club, I won’t forget about you.