A rag-tag bunch of unruly kids are ordered into school on a Saturday for an extra special morning detention. Defiant at first, they eventually find a camaraderie when the principal buggers off and leaves them to entertain themselves.
“When the causes of the Decline Of Western Civilization are finally writ, Hollywood will surely have to answer why it turned over one of man’s most significant art forms to the self-gratification of high-schoolers...” Industry rag Variety didn’t so much greet The Breakfast Club with open arms as crunch it into an armpit-lock and squeeze until the jerking stopped.
In retrospect, this violent reaction to such a vanilla-flavoured piece of cinema reads like a badly informed dad’s rants. Or maybe an allergic reaction to Emilio Estevez’s dancing. Variety was cruel at the time but, over 20 years on, has time been cruel to the Club? In the spirit of adolescent indecision, that’s a definite yes-no.
Calling it radical would be a stretch, yet in 1985 The Breakfast Club dressed differently from all the other teen comedies flying down the chutes. Director John Hughes wrote the script in a fortnight, constructing a simple, one-location talkie that brought a generation’s submerged angst to the surface. The result was a movie that’s confused, impatient, indulgent, naive, clumsy, unintentionally funny and prone to random outbursts of energy. Rather like the audience that lined the blocks to tune in and angst out.
To Shermer High, then, where five Kellogg’s Teen Pack archetypes — jock, weirdo, nerd, rebel, prom queen — are assembled for an all-Saturday detention. Over the course of eight hours, they pick at each other’s defences (fun) until an existential maelstrom hits and they come to learn some universal teen-truths (less fun). Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson are all volume, the last blasting out his bothers like a WWE wrestler, but Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall are great, even during the film’s more pompous moments.
The style might be flying in from another decade (Sheedy’s makeover from chic Goth to Bridesmaid Of Minnie Mouse is as laugh-out-loud as it ever was), but the emotional baggage has survived the journey. Really — and this is a compliment — it’s a movie for anyone who’s ever had zits. Which means all of us at some point.
So, if you had zits in the ’80s, there’s guilty retro-pleasures aplenty, like Estevez’s dance moves, an extraordinary piece of performance art that combines harassment by persistent wasp (arms) with prostate-popping squat thrusts (legs). And if you have zits now? There’s just about enough truth behind the banalities to still strike discord.
Hughes has made funnier (Ferris Bueller) and better (Pretty In Pink), but this is the only one you could get away with calling iconic. Good and bad, it's still the definitive '80s teen movie - and, to paraphrase Simple Minds - don't you forget about it.