I wish I was alive in the 80s. Or at least, I wish I was alive in the world of those 80s films, so knowing and righteous in their manifestations of teen problems. The Breakfast Club is a film I’ve watched partly on the recommendation of a friend (a recommendation he gave me at least two years ago) and partly because of its importance in that much more modern study on conformity and kinship, Pitch Perfect. It’s a film I was frustrated by almost constantly, and sometimes even angry with, an emotion I reserve for the most heinous of offences (such as the Jeremy Kyle show). It’s a film I thought was put together weirdly, with moments and scenes and decisions I disliked for multiple reasons. But it was a good film. A great film, I reluctantly admit.
There are a number of seemingly random vignettes, like little performances plucked out of time purely for the camera. They felt at odds with the film to me. Shots like that flash of Allison leaning against the wall casual and crazy as can be, as the rest of the characters sprint past, or the various clips of them dancing, sometimes in pairings that make no sense to the relationships that have come before. They seemed like filler, or sketches in a film that didn’t really need them.
Then there’s the films pretty absurd obsession with Claire’s sexuality, one of the more glaring oddities. While maybe not inaccurate, for us hormonal young men are indeed disgusting, it wasn’t helpful for building to the conclusion the film was after. The moment John Bender shoves his head in-between Claire’s legs is the moment he stops being the sort of bad boy stereotype that’s attractive to a disgusting number of people and starts being just a creep. Which, really, is probably my issue with the film more than anyone else’s. John Bender and his stupid bad boy face, being all cool and sexy and awful. But anyway.
It leads to some interesting arguments, that uncomfortable sexual magnifying glass. Arguments are the source of all the films best moments, when the characters are at each other’s throats, gasping through their own sobs, clawing at some distant point they so desperately want to make. That’s where it all starts to makes sense, where the stereotyping and the bullying and the contrivance of the situation starts to vaguely piece itself together into something brilliant. The final argument, the almost therapeutic circle of confessions, is an unflinching onion peeling marathon, at once impressive and the cause of many a tear.
The film truly shines when it picks a topic and lets its characters run with it. The adults working in the school have a little argument of their own, a discussion over how much the kids have changed over the years. It’s so perfectly pitched in a film for and about teenagers, in the way that it doesn’t let the adults off the hook, it doesn’t give them secret tragic backstories, and yet it does treat them with empathy, and does show the complexity of the situation. It helps too to have a pretty decent adult in the mix as well, one who balances the scales and creates a much richer tone than the us and them it so easily could have been. It lets that final big argument, confession time, where all the pieces click together and motivations become clear, take on a much more important tone. It’s not just kids being kids, because the adults are doing it too, and with a whole lot less introspection. It’s real, and it’s important, and for everyone in that room it matters.
As Brian Johnson askes the question, are we still going to be friends? And as the unceasingly honest replies comes in, I look at them all and I feel anger. Primal, real anger. The way Brian’s pressure over his exams has reached a boiling point, I see these heartfelt, adventurous 80s films and I get a little too close to a boiling point of my own. I watch them share their flaws and their frustrations and their observations about the situation and I want to jump in with mine. Hey people, I want to yell. Shut up! This is my chance. My confession. I see all of you and I… I feel like I’ve wasted the best part of my life. I look at you and I feel angry, angry because you’re all, each and every one of you, living an experience. I’m too scared to dip my toes in the water, too scared to feel the pain and the joy of stupid crazy life. I sit here and I watch the perverted, asshole bad boy be awake and get the girl and conquer the world all the ducking time. I hate it. I hate him. I really do.
So the truth is, I don’t really have that many problems with the film itself. It made me angry, and frustrated, but it still made me feel. It was personal, in a sneaky kind of way, and if something that provokes a reaction like that can really be anything but excellent I’d be pretty surprised. The worst part is, I actually kind of like those characters, in the end. They’re representations of things I hate, stand ins for my perceived injustices abound in life. But the actors bring so much heart to their roles. I hate them and I hate the film and I hate the way it makes me feel. But I kind of love the whole thing too.