The Breakfast Club: 30 Years Later

June 27, 2024 – 04:47 am

Photo: REX USA.

"They were five strangers with nothing in common. Meeting for the first time. A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel, and a recluse."

This week, in 1985, The Breakfast Club hit theaters. It's the pearl anniversary, and three decades later, the story of five kids stuck in Saturday detention resonates just as powerfully as it did back then, when we teenagers over-gelled our hair and talked on landlines.

Maybe the film is outdated; maybe life is way more complicated for a teenager in 2015; maybe no one says "Neo-Maxi-Zoom-Dweebie" anymore (or ever, really); but I think it's safe to say that the film has officially entered classic status, up there with other American comedy dramas like Annie Hall, The Graduate, and Do The Right Thing — one of those flicks that both defines and defies a genre. People who say they don't like it are just being overly critical, bitter, or contrary just for the sake of it. It's like saying "I don't like cake."

This is hard to say about other teen movies. It's not like we all walk around thinking "I want a BFF like Regina in Mean Girls!" or “I really want to live like James Dean in A Rebel Without a Cause!" or "I want to be sent to kill other kids my age in a giant man-made jungle like Katniss!" But we all, no matter what age or generation, want to connect the way that Claire, Andy, Brian, Allison, and Bender do. We all want to be understood.

The film made stars out of Molly Ringwald (Claire), Anthony Michael Hall (Brian), Judd Nelson (Bender), Ally Sheedy (Allison), and Emilio Estevez (Andrew), and affixed the legacy of writer and director John Hughes as the voice of the '80s teen psyche. The film also elevated the teen comedy (at least for a little bit) out of being a collection of gratuitous boob shots and stock characters: the horny guy ogling a cheerleader, a geek losing his virginity to a sexy teacher, a kid looking through a peephole at a naked woman.

The elegant simplicity of The Breakfast Club — one location, little action, emotional clarity — still stands out as a rarity. And, like many rare classics, the film survived a number of obstacles, missteps, and bottom-line-minded Hollywood execs that could have turned the film into just another mindless teensploitation turd. (The casting alone is fascinating. Bender was almost played by John Cusak, and the role of Allison was originally meant for Ringwald.) Hughes, who went through dozens of revisions of the script, even had a scene in one draft of the principal Vernon (played by Paul Gleason) looking through a peephole at a female coach swimming naked.

But, Hughes, who sadly and suddenly died of a heart attack in 2009, was not a delusional auteur. All the actors agree, in various interviews over the years, that Hughes was "one of us, " often more comfortable with his young actors than with other adults. During the memorable scene when the characters sit in a semi-circle and bare their souls (Brian admitting he attempted suicide, Andrew confessing he bullied an unpopular classmate, Claire admitting she is a virgin), Hughes was sitting there too, under the camera, completing the circle.

After writing hits like National Lampoon's Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and Mr. Mom, Hughes had reached a level of clout in Hollywood. Still, this was meant to be his directorial debut, and he was admittedly nervous. Creating a film that is set all in one room was his way of keeping things simple. They shot in an empty high school in a suburban development of Des Plaines, IL, converting the gym into a huge library, complete with a big lumpy sculpture that was inspired by one in the Universal lobby.

Hughes trusted his actors: He lavished them with a three-week rehearsal process, and shot the scenes in sequence, both unheard of in films, then and now. "We rehearsed it like a play…just sitting together and we just read through the script every day…like team practice, or a family praying together, " Anthony Michael Hall remembers in Susannah Gora's fascinating 2010 book about Hughes' films, You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried.

Hughes was also extremely flexible with his script, before and during the production. "He is the only writer-director with whom I have worked who is courageous enough to totally let his script go, " wrote Ally Sheedy in her introduction to the essay collection, Don't You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes.


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  • avatar How long did it take to write the script for the movie 'The Breakfast Club'?
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