John Hughes had a knack for connecting with teenage audiences in his films, and in turn, viewers of all ages. Every grown adult was a teenager once, so they can relate to Hughes’ storylines revolving around the daily struggles of this period in a person’s life. Hughes’ film The Breakfast Club is one of his many projects that capture these situations in a nutshell. An interesting combination of drama and comedy, this film is an iconic symbol of 1980s pop culture.
The story of this particular film is centered around a group of high schoolers who are stuck in detention on a Saturday. Each student represents one of the stereotypical crowds in a high school. There is John Bender (Judd Nelson), the bad boy, Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), the athlete, Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), the pretty girl, Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), the nerd, and Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy), the goth. The instructor Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) is yet another formula character, as the high school teacher who is portrayed as a dictator. There is a great deal of friction between this group. Bender does absolutely everything he can to get under the skin of the other students and Mr. Vernon. This film has some very quirky elements. The story seems to be going nowhere at all. We see the students get into mischief, sneaking around the school and playing tricks on Mr. Vernon. Gradually, the audience recognizes that these students with completely different personalities are drawing closer together and learning more about each other as they are all prisoners for a day. Greater insight is gained into Bender’s character and why he is such a trouble maker. It is revealed that he has had a very rough life at home, which has contributed a great deal to his dark nature. As the audience sees this, they might think back to similar people they have met in their lives. What if these people had backgrounds with the same disturbing elements? Not only does the audience view Bender in a different light, but they look at other people that they know personally in a different way as well.
One by one, the stereotype of each of these characters is broken down. They are not how they appear on the outside. High schoolers are at a very emotional stage in their lives, an aspect that certainly shines through as these characters are further developed and fleshed out. The various issues that they struggle with, including grades, relationships, and parents are detailed. Outbursts of pure, youthful emotion come about frequently throughout this film. Teenage members of the audience will find this very relatable to their own lives. The message that John Hughes was trying to convey to viewers was that people should not be judged solely based on molds and formulas. There is almost always something deeper behind that pattern. It is the evolution of the character of these high school students that makes this film an American classic. The story itself is nothing special. A group of kids in Saturday detention in not exactly a plot that grabs most peoples’ attention. Yet, this film worked because of the incredible growth of the characters as they got to know and understand each other.
The conflicts that we see the students face in this film are things that many people fight throughout their lives. Each character is at a point in their life where the decisions they make will have a tremendous impact on their future. Most of the time, these decisions are not easy. (Man vs. Himself). There are always going to be two sides to the issue, and one party is going to be upset by the conclusion (Man vs. Society). For instance, at a high school, it is difficult for someone to fit in who is by the book and follows the rules all the time. However, they will upset figures of authority if they rebel in any fashion. Finding this balance is very challenging for people at this age.
Certain technical aspects of this film stand out as well. During the opening credits, we are shown quick, fleeting shots from around the high school, mostly of damaged property and the like. The audience is not aware at this moment, but this is telling the story of why the students are in detention. Music specific to that decade accompanies this opening as well, recurring throughout the film at different times. There were a few montages of scenes set to music that were used as a method of passing time in the story. These high schoolers were stuck in detention for more than eight hours, so it would have been impossible to do this movie without scenes like this. An equally significant audible component of The Breakfast Club was the incorporation of silence and ambient sounds. A large portion of the film focused on the conversations between the characters and how they grew to perceive each other in different fashions. Whenever this talking took place, the audience heard nothing but the dialogue and background noise that the characters themselves would have been hearing. As for camera angles, there were some scenes with very tight, zoomed in shots that made the characters seem that much more authentic. This is yet another approach that John Hughes took in making his characters come to life.
While John Hughes carried out his plan for this film and accomplished what he wanted to, I personally was not a huge fan of this work of his. Perhaps I carry some baggage, but I did not like feeling that the story lacked structure and direction. To me, this film just felt weird at times. However, I think this is precisely what Hughes desired as the filmmaker. Many of his films have this exact same impression, and some audience members enjoy it more than others. Still, I am glad that I finally chose to view this film that is a staple in American pop culture. My overall grade of The Breakfast Club is a “C+,” although I understand what makes it so special to other people. Different films fit different personalities.