1. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Director: John Hughes

Starring: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason

Here it is… my #1 favorite movie. At age seventeen, my first viewing of “The Breakfast Club” could not have come at a better time. John Hughes was always great at creating lovable characters, but it was his teenagers that Hughes sympathized with the most. Yet it is with this movie that I think Hughes comes up with his most honest portrayal of the uncertainties and frustrations of teenage life. While “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” breaks the fourth wall, “The Breakfast Club” is the one that speaks directly to me. In many teen comedies, even some of those written by John Hughes, the main character is someone we latch onto less because of our ability to relate to them and more out of wish fulfillment. They can do the things we only wish we could have at their age. There is not one, but five main characters in “The Breakfast Club” and each, instead of being people we wish we could be, are recognizable as reflections of people we knew in high school… and of ourselves.

The five generic labels represented are the outcast, the criminal, the athlete, the nerd and the spoiled rich girl. They walk into detention reluctantly, each wanting even less to do with the other four than they do with Vice Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). They have been conditioned to believe that, because they come from different backgrounds and families of different financial standing, there will always be a barrier between them which cannot be breached. Eventually, someone speaks up and, in turn, they all begin to realize that they have more in common than they could have ever imagined. All of them agree on one thing immediately: their parents are assholes who don’t understand them, and they hope to God that they won’t grow up to be just like them.

Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald)’s parents are constantly feuding, and they use her as a tool to get back at each other. Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) has an overbearing father who must not have had as successful an athletic career as he would have liked, or he would not be pushing his son to be a champion mat wrestler. Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) is a genius who finds himself bullied as much by his parents as he is by his fellow students. Brian’s mother and father have planted the seed in his mind that his high school grades are the end all, be all of his future. Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) feels completely ignored by her parents, and finds this is true of her classmates as well. The fault there is mutual, though, as in keeping to herself she rarely gives anyone at school the chance to interact with her.

Everyone’s favorite character, and the one whose inappropriate yet honest behavior is the spark that begins the talks between the children, is John Bender (Judd Nelson). His father is abusive, and his mother is no prize, either. He puts on the mask of a tough guy, but John is like a wounded animal. He lashes out when accused of being a liar, a no-good punk, etc. His dramatic demonstration of his home life, complete with impressions of what his parents sound like, is easily my favorite scene in the movie. All John really needs… All any of them need… is for someone to listen and understand them.

Looking back, I see in my teenage self that there were parts of both Brian (perceived as weak by bullies who envied my intellect) and Allison (often finding myself eating lunch alone, or otherwise not adding much to the table conversation), minus the parental issues. When I was in high school, I had friends in every clique that there was. I managed this without ever feeling as though I belonged exclusively to any one of those groups. I never quite understood the need for it all. We were all teenagers, each of us with similar dreams and fears, so why separate everyone into categories? Kids need to value their education, yes, and they need authority figures in their lives who give a damn about their growth and development. But they also need to be taught the value of equality, of sharing, and of the friendships that can come as a result of mutual understanding.


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