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.
The Breaksfast Club is 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, little performances plucked out of the editing room. They felt at odds with the film to me. Shots of Allison leaning against a wall, casual and crazy, while the rest of the cast sprint by, or the various clips of characters dancing, sometimes in pairings that make no sense to the relationships that have come before. It 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 didn’t build to the conclusion the film presented. 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, for me. From then on he’s just a creep. Stupid John Bender and his stupid bad boy face, being all cool and sexy and awful.
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 truth they so desperately want to express. That’s where it all starts to makes sense, where the stereotyping and the bullying and the contrivance of the situation starts to piece itself together into something brilliant. That final argument, an almost therapeutic circle of confessions, is an unflinching marathon of onion peeling. Impressive, yes, 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. It doesn’t let the adults off the hook. It doesn’t give them tragic backstories. It just treats them with empathy, and shows the complexity of the situation. This scene heightens the impact of the final argument between the kids aswell. It tells us that this isn’t just kids being kids, because the adults are doing it too, and with a whole lot less introspection. This is real, and it’s important, and for everyone in the room it matters.
In this final argument Brian Johnson asks the question: “Are we still going to be friends?” As the relentlessly honest replies come in, I really felt angry. I watched them share their flaws and their frustrations and their observations and I wanted to jump in with mine. “Hey people,” I wanted to yell. “Shut up! This is my chance. My confession!”
In a film I don’t really care for, the script made me angry, and frustrated, and conflicted. It was deeply personal, in a sneaky kind of way. Something that provokes such a strong reaction can’t be anything but excellent, I suppose. For all it’s flaws, The Breakfast Club has power. Jesse from Pitch Perfect was right. You really should watch it. I guess.