The Breakfast Club or St Emilio’s Fire

Ash Isaac

At 7am they had nothing to say, but by 4pm they had bared their souls to each other and were good friends. Only in Hollywood, or more specifically, the mythic Mid Western suburb of Shermer could a collection of disparate and diverse individuals set aside their petty differences and prejudices to become bosom buddies in the space of 9 short hours. Group therapy has never looked, sounded or felt so good.

The basic plot of The Breakfast Club is fairly simple: several angst-ridden teens are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. Each of them is from a separate school clique such as the ‘criminal’ (Judd Nelson), ‘athlete’ (Emilio Estevez), ‘nerd’ (Brian Johnson), ‘basket case’ (Ally Sheedy) and ‘princess’ (Molly Ringwald). It’s like an open casting call for a high school version of Big Brother except, needless to say, the actors playing high school students are all in their late twenties and at the end everyone isn’t left with a pathological hatred of each other.

At the start of the film we watch as each of them make their way to school and congregate in the designated detention room. It is a simpler time. There is no internet, no smartphones, no Facebook, no 3D TV; people are forced to interact with each other on a face-to-face basis. The social network still functions in this bleak age, just on a much more rudimentary level than we 21st century folks are used to. Thus, the five assembled members of the club are only vaguely aware of who the others are and in the normal course of events would be happy to just ignore them.

Before their day of penitence can commence they are given details of their punishment by supervising teacher, Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason): to write a thousand word essay about who they think they are. Before Vernon can leave them to their hard labour, he is antagonised by ‘criminal’ John Bender who then proceeds to aggravate the rest of the group for his own amusement. This provokes the ire and threat of violence from the ‘athlete’, Andrew, and disgust from the ‘princess’, Claire.

Slowly but surely the group opens up to each other and we begin to delve past the standard teen tropes of hating your parents, insecurity, peer pressure and into some darker themes. Bender reveals that his parents physically abuse him. The ‘brain’, Brian, confesses that he contemplated suicide after receiving a poor grade. The ‘basket case’, Allison, tells them she has been having an affair with her psychiatrist before admitting that, actually, she’s just a compulsive liar. Bender retrieves some cannabis from his locker to lighten the mood and soon enough a few tokes has them bonding ever closer together.

By the end of the film Andrew and Allison are romantically involved as are Bender and Claire. And as for Brian…well, he ends up with the customary nerd’s short straw: the others invite him to write their essays for them. Thanks, guys. The closing scene sees all five of them narrating a voiceover about who they think they are and how Gleason has pigeonholed them into their respective cliques and already passed judgement on who they are.

If this film were made today then we would probably have Justin Bieber and his pet capuchin urinating in the library, Miley Cyrus twerking the head teacher (played by Robin Thicke), Harry Styles copulating with the cheerleading squad on the roof and maybe Lindsay Lohan could have turned up while on day release from county prison. By the end, rather than a feel-good rapprochement there would probably an outbreak of violence ended only by the appearance of the local SWAT team.

Sadly, John Hughes, the mythic filmmaker behind such hits as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Dau Off and Sixteen Candles is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on. Blessed with the sort of searing honesty and poignant insight that has sadly been lacking from a host of imitators, The Breakfast Club remains the definitive teen movie. As acute an examination of growing pains that has so far been committed to celluloid yet still funny, anarchic, wise and, nineteen years after its original release, still essential viewing.

About Ash Isaac

I am a contributor of questionable taste, origin and talent. My one claim to fame is that I was born in the same hospital as Cliff Richard. I am still in possession of my soul unlike Sir Cliff who sold his to Samael the Desolate in return for eternal youth and the friendship of Sue Barker.