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'The Breakfast Club' Gets Overpowered by Its Archetypes

The Breakfast Club is a solid effort, but one that spends too much times clubbing its viewers over the head with its message of, "We're more than just labels."


The Breakfast Club

Director: John Hughes
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy
Blu-ray: The Breakfast Club, 30th Anniversary Edition
US release date: 2015-03-10

A good movie establishes its tone early, maintains it for the duration of the story, and leaves the audience satisfied. That doesn't mean it was a great movie, of course, just a piece of work that achieved the goals it set out for itself.

That's where The Breakfast Club finds itself in the catalog of John Hughes' 80s teen films: good but not great. It's a solid effort, but it's one that feels the need to club viewers over the head with its archetypal, one-dimensional characters and its "We're more than just labels" message. It's a film that spoke to its teenage target audience in the '80s, but today it likely speaks more to their kids than to them, in contrast to a Hughes movie like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which still resonates with its original audience. (Or, even, the subgenre-skewering Heathers, which still holds up today too.)

The film is set up like a stage play (and, indeed, it has been mounted as one at many theaters), with five students arriving on Saturday morning for all-day detention: Claire, the princess (Molly Ringwald); Andrew, the athlete (Emilio Estevez); Brian, the brain (Anthony Michael Hall); Allison the weird recluse (Ally Sheedy); and John the burn-out (Judd Nelson). They're told by the assistant principal to sit quietly in their seats for the next several hours and write essays about who they think they are. He goes to his office, returning occasionally to check on them.

Of course, you can't expect five high school students to sit and do nothing alone for several hours, so soon hijinks begin to happen, then conflicts between them erupt, and, finally, the clichéd personal revelations pour out, and they realize they're not so different from each other after all. The joint essay they leave behind at the end of the day encapsulates those feelings, and the assumption is that they will return to school on Monday with changed attitudes toward each other and their peer groups. It's a tidy conclusion to the story.

However, this being a John Hughes film, there are certainly some highlights to be gleaned from his craftsmanship. The way the kids speak is authentic and raw, even if some of the slang is now woefully outdated. The music is still a great listen. The performances by members of the so-called Brat Pack are all solid and complementary of each other, as they should be in an ensemble piece. For those who grew up in the '80s, all of Hughes' films likely remain wisps of nostalgia, and because of that, The Breakfast Club is still a movie worthy of losing oneself in every once in a while, like a little port in life's ongoing storms.

This 30th Anniversary Edition ports over all the bonus features from the prior 25th Anniversary disc, so for those who bought the previous release, an upgrade comes down to whether the new trivia track and improved picture quality are important. The trivia track, called Accepting the Facts, causes a folder or a crumpled piece of paper appears onscreen when enabled. A remote click summons a tidbit or an anecdote.

It seems that such a thing would be better included in a documentary piece, such as Sincerely Yours, a 12-part documentary that clocks in at 51 minutes and features more reminiscing from not just Nelson and Hall but also many other cast and crew members. The obligatory cultural impact topic is explored, along with discussions about getting into character, remembrances of the late John Hughes and Paul Gleason (he played the vice-principal), and other subjects. Diablo Cody, Amy Heckerling, and other film folks also participate, while Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez passed on joining the fun.

A look back at the film can also be found in the commentary track with Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall, who have plenty of stories about their time making the movie. It's a pleasurable listen for fans of the film, but it doesn't dig into "Here's how we did this shot" or similar technical subjects. The Blu-ray disc's producer also participates as a moderator, and sometimes he irritatingly inserts himself into the discussion, rather than remaining on the sideline.

Finally, the "Brat Pack" label is explored in The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origins of the Brat Pack, a six-minute featurette. It takes a quick look at the label that was applied to many up-and-coming actors during the '80s, complete with an interview with the phrase-coining New York magazine reporter. Some of the cast members still seem bitter about the term being applied to them, an idea that certainly ties into the main theme of The Breakfast Club.

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