The Breakfast Club turns 30: And the death of the teen movie genre
The very teen movie genre that was so hot in the ‘80s. That’s what we’ve been missing.
I call it the teen angst genre, because that’s what the movies were about. The Breakfast Club, Heathers, Pump Up the Volume, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Better Off Dead, Say Anything, Sixteen Candles, and I’m sure I’m leaving your favorite movie out.
The themes were common across the genre. Basically, it’s tough being a teen, and that’s no different now than it was back in the ‘80s, though you don’t see the topic explored to the depths that it was back in the ‘80s.
The Breakfast Club was at the height of the art form. Writer-director-producer John Hughes was at his best, with an all-star cast (Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilion Estevez) playing stock characters that everyone could identify with.
The interplay of the characters – the princess, the sporto, the geek, the flameout, the criminal – is what made the movie work, back in its day and carrying through to the modern day.
It was fun watching it again last night for the first time in quite a few years, and seeing it with different eyes, those now of a fortysomething looking back at the silliness of my high-school years. I definitely identified most with the character Brian (Hall), the nerdy math club, Latin club and physics club kid struggling to get a decent grade in shop class so as not to ruin his GPA, and at the same time having to deal with not fitting in with the cool kids and having almost no role in the dating scene.
I wanted to take Brian aside to tell him that it would be OK, which of course would be me telling me that it would be OK, don’t sweat it, life will work itself out in due time.
What fans of the movie liked most about it was that it wasn’t just Brian who was struggling. Claire (Ringwald), the princess, felt imprisoned by her social status and her parents using her as a pawn to get back at each other. Andy (Estevez), the wrestler, wasn’t allowed to think for himself, the pressure from his father to win state championships to put himself in line for a college scholarship almost too much to bear. Allison (Sheedy), the mousy flameout, just wanted people to pay attention to her, and John (Nelson), the criminal, was acting out against the world because of the way his father acted out against him and his mother.
The movie worked because it didn’t take a preachy tone to tell us that no matter where we come from, we all have problems. John smuggles a bag of marijuana into the detention hall. Andy cops to what was essentially a sexual assault of a fellow wrestler that would land him in jail today. Brian describes a cry for help in the form of bringing a gun to school, a flare gun, sure, but still a gun, that lands him in detention, but today would also have him behind bars.
The kids are no angels, but they’re not irredeemable, either, and in fact by the end of the movie, which takes place over a day-long Saturday spent in school detention, we have seen each grow. Brian and Allison have more confidence, Andy breaks out in spontaneous dance, and Claire and John begin an awkward relationship in part because they know that doing so will properly shock the right people.
These kind of quirky movies don’t seem to get made anymore, or at the least don’t get wide theatrical release. That’s another reason movies like The Breakfast Club stand the test of time. We’re starved for movies that go beyond superheroes fighting villains in real-life cartoons and superficial buddy comedies that are vehicles for the latest variations on fart and momma jokes.
I know that the answer to my veiled criticism here is that, hey, those movies sell. A couple hundred people paid ten bucks to watch a 30-year-old movie at The Paramount last night for some reason.
I’d suggest that those movies sell, too.
– Review by Chris Graham