***/**** Image A- Sound A-
starring Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson
written and directed by John Hughes
by Vincent Suarez Oh, how I wish I could hate The Breakfast Club. Maybe it's because I was a geeky high-school senior in 1985, when the film was released, and I defiantly loathed anything that smacked of cool. Perhaps it's because writer/producer/director John Hughes has been responsible for some of the most inane (e.g., Dutch, Curly Sue, Baby's Day Out) and unnecessary (e.g., Flubber, Miracle on 34th Street, 101 Dalmations) films in recent memory.
Or, it might be because The Brat Pack and their films have never really held any appeal for me. Most likely, though, it's because the film is better than I would care to admit, one of those mystical instances of the whole being far greater than the sum of its parts. In any event, Universal's recent DVD release occasioned the opportunity for me to once again reassess a film which pleads "Don't You Forget About Me," and it's a film I can't forget despite my valiant efforts to do so.
"The Breakfast Club" is an assortment of high-school students who have been forced to spend an entire Saturday together in detention, for a variety of transgressions. Each is seen by Mr. Vernon, their pompous teacher (Paul Gleason), and initially by one another, as simply a stereotype: Johnson, the Brain (Hall); Clark, the Athlete (Estevez); Allison , the Basket Case (Ally Sheedy); Claire, the Princess (Ringwald); and Bender, the Criminal (Nelson).
Vernon has charged them with writing an essay describing "who you think you are," and through a series of interpersonal rap sessions the group concludes (in an essay written, of course, by the Brain) that they are not what Vernon--and, by extension, adult society--would believe them to be. Rather, they are the stereotypes that Hollywood would believe them to be: the Brain who can smoke dope and play air-guitar with the best of them; the conscientious Athlete victimized by his father's drive for achievement; the Basket Case who is a beauty underneath her put-on psychoses; the virginal Princess wounded by her family's indifference; and the tough-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside Criminal victimized by his father's alcoholism and domestic abuse. In short, they are the high-school equivalents of the old Hollywood stand-by, the Hooker with a heart of gold.
While I find it hard to reconcile that the film celebrates its trading of societal stereotypes for Hollywood clichés, The Breakfast Club is an undeniably successful film. Though at times a little overwrought, Hughes's screenplay is nevertheless witty and engaging, and the performances are uniformly fine. The direction is equally good, with Hughes knowing just when to cut away to reaction shots and when to linger on each character during their moments of shame/recognition/revelation. All these filmic elements are at their peak during the sequences in which each character reveals the reason for their detention and, in the process, bares his/her soul. These are meant to be the most profound moments of the film, and as contrived and cliched as they are ... damnit, they work.
I still have a host of problems with the film. It goes to great pains to deconstruct the stereotypes of youth, for example, yet the adults in the film are never given the same treatment. Of course, the film's target audience (both the cool and alienated youth of the '80s) would have no interest in the deconstruction of adult stereotypes. Still, despite a relatively hollow scene between Vernon and Carl, the school janitor (John Kapelos), that is meant to parallel the soul-searching discussions of The Breakfast Club, Vernon remains little more than the Bitter Teacher.
Meanwhile, the students' parents exist only on the periphery (I am reminded of the way in which the adults and parents in a "Peanuts" cartoon are represented by nondescript, garbled voices, as if they exist in some other universe), as literal vehicles to and from school, and as merely the source of their kids' angst. I also have a hard time with the fact that, in adopting another Hollywood convention, the formation of the couple (here there are two, the Criminal & the Princess and the Athlete & the Basket Case), the film predictably leaves the Brain without a mate. This may just be sour grapes on the part of that geeky kid in me (not that I am a brain, but guys like us never end up with the girl!), but it would have been a bolder move to leave one of the other guys unattached.
Finally, while paying only lip service to what is going to become of The Breakfast Club (the group acknowledges that on Monday morning they will likely not disrupt their carefully molded images by hanging with one another), the film misses the opportunity to explore what I think is the most fertile theme raised: that while high-schoolers may want to be known as more than what they appear to be, they nevertheless mold themselves into these roles because of the comfort they find there among their peers.
Despite these complaints, The Breakfast Club remains Hughes's most mature and thoughtful work, and the DVD is a real treat. (In saying that the film has never looked and sounded better to the home viewer, I am guilty of putting forth what is fast becoming a cliché among DVD reviewers!) This is the first time the film has been available letterboxed, and the non-anamorphic 1.85:1 image is excellent. Colors are richer and more vibrant than ever, and there is only the slightest hint of aliasing from time to time.
While the Dolby Digital tracks present the film in its original mono mix (in English, French, and Spanish), the clarity is fine and the music sounds as good as mono can. Universal has included a slightly less-boring menu than is typical of other studios' no-frills discs, in that it includes various stills from the film and graphics (notebook clippings and such) consistent with the setting of the film. The sparse "Bonus Materials" contain an interesting series of Production Notes and cursory bios and filmographies of Hughes and The Brat Pack. A trailer would have been nice, if only to relive the "coming attraction" style of my youth. Originally published: September 2, 1998.