“Sincerely Yours …”
Molly Jackson will be exploring John Hughes’ 1985 iconic teen picture The Breakfast Club. She will be reviewing the film whilst looking deeper into how Hughes’ created a film with such a long lasting memory.
The birth of the teen film of course dates back to the era of Marlon Brando’s biker gang and the original identity-confused teen himself, James Dean. Since the 1950’s directors dabbled in the genre here and there, but nobody really fully committed themselves to the teen flick. Fortunately, decades on we were presented with the era of John Hughes and his brat pack gang of teenage actors instigating a surge in popular coming-of-age films. All six films Hughes worked on in this time (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Some kind of Wonderful) are significant to the genre but, debatably, The Breakfast Club is the most iconic. Hughes demolishes traditional thinking by bringing us a straightforward teen film bursting with dialogue.
One average Saturday detention in the library of Sherman High brought us a lot more entertainment than the single location would bargain for. Hughes brings together the definitive high school movie cast of the 1980’s playing five diverse conventional teenage stereotypes; the ‘athlete’ (Emilio Estevez), the ‘princess’ (Molly Ringwald), the ‘criminal’ (Judd Nelson), the ‘basket case’ (Ally Sheedy) and the ‘brain’ (Anthony Michael Hall). These five strangers corralled into school on their weekend, are instructed to sit, don’t speak; don’t move for the next 8 hours, and finally to their displeasure, to write an essay about who they think they are.
The five characters are at first glance displayed as simplistic black and white typecasts. Whilst the stereotypes these characters represent may be seen as a boring cliché, I believe it’s quite clear that these stereotypes are the forefront of the narrative. Hughes successfully deconstructs each stereotype as we are immersed into a 97-minute group therapy session in which each character pulls on our heartstrings whilst struggling with their inner demons. The outsiders were now the main characters, a notion that continued in great teen films to come. There’s no extravagant set or lavish costumes, just the raw characters and their emotions. Whilst I certainly cannot speak for the late John Hughes myself, I credit that he didn’t aim to write this script with twists and turns to keep you guessing, but in an age of excessive high concept blockbusters, he successfully created a stripped-back and transparent view into teenage life. As you make your way through the narrative the boundaries between the stereotypes are for moments blurred, we see these five separate personalities all begin to dissect, as they all for at least a moment become the same. The stereotypes are destroyed not by getting rid of them but through embracing them as the shared characteristics of all five characters. Hall comes to the renowned conclusion in his essay answer, ‘you see us as you want to see us 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.’
Forget the Hollywood renaissance of the 1960’s; Hughes brought us the teen film renaissance of the 1980’s. He clearly identified with the teenage mind, rolling out film after film of relevant narratives. The Hughes teenagers of the 80’s are just as anxious and confused as the newly found teens of the 1950’s. Whilst giving exceptions to those films such as Rebel Without a Cause, Hughes’s films of the 80’s are some of the first to take the genre seriously. He made films about teenagers for teenagers, and the 80’s may always be this genre’s golden age. None the less; Hughes created a lasting memory and influence on significant teen films to come, such as Heathers, Clueless, and Easy-A.
The Breakfast Club is still as relevant as ever, the only thing that is out-dated is the wardrobe and even that is coming back into fashion. The dialogue will be forever significant, as the young actors gave outstanding performances simply sitting in a circle, revealing harsh truths about adulthood and internal teenage fears. The characters are stripped down to their collective longing just to be liked and accepted by society. There are quotes from this scene that still, whether we want them to or not, hold up thirty years on; Alison while talking about virginity says how, “If you say you haven’t you’re a prude. If you say you have you’re a sl*t. It’s a trap”.
Moreover it’s no wonder teenagers dread adulthood with ruthless lines such as “when you grow up your heart dies”. Whilst most teen films depict adults as out of touch and anti-youth, Hughes displays the extreme. It is clear that he himself had a problem with authority figures, compared to his deep teenage characters; Hughes’ adults seem far more one-dimensional. Whilst I reject Hughes’ strong idea that all teens hate their parents, the characters struggle to break out of their stereotypes is certainly still relatable in an age where labels continue to infect our lives.
Hughes doesn’t shy away from the truth, yes there may be a Hollywood ending as the characters all leave as friends, but there’s the harsh truth shared that come Monday none of these people would even acknowledge each other let alone be friends. The only problem I find with Hughes’ ending is Allison’s last minute transformation makeover. Whilst it’s refreshing that the popular girl is being nice to the weirdo ‘because she’s letting her’, it’s not so refreshing that Hughes decided to end the movie by changing Allison into something she’s not. The athlete kisses her only now she looks different, my only question being why he couldn’t have kissed the Allison we all got to know and love.
Nevertheless, Hughes successfully created a genuine view of teenage life, despite the odd spontaneous dance routine that is. But no discredit to Hughes – a bit of surrealism was needed; it was the eighties after all. Hughes displayed a naturalistic experience with just the right amount of offbeat energy spurts to match the audience watching and I will forever respect and admire the film and its final words. Hughes changed the teen genre for the better and he needn’t worry, The Breakfast Club has certainly not been forgotten.