Thirty years ago, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, the quintessential high school movie, opened in theaters. When I was eighteen, someone asked me what my favorite movie was and I readily said The Breakfast Club, duh. Fast forward five years and nothing makes me laugh and feel this particular brand of mortification quite like remembering that and repeating it now.
I’ve grown into the type of person who will be the first to tell you The Breakfast Club isn’t the alpha and omega of the genre, that it isn’t without its problems and that the hype around the movie is greater than anything within it. It is no longer my favorite movie. I’ve long since dashed the concept of having a favorite movie. (Seriously, that’s like asking me to name a favorite niece or nephew.) Although I can nitpick and sift the flaws out of The Breakfast Club, I can also recognize the little sparks of genius throughout this movie about teens in detention on a weekend, unconsciously seeking to define themselves, seeking a stable sense of identity and finding common ground, finding understanding in unexpected places.
Three minutes. It takes roughly three minutes to lay down the groundwork for the entire movie. We learn the premise through the voiceover and the isolated shots filled with high school iconography. From the arrival sequence, we see the cars they drive up in and small interactions between teen and parent. It gives us just enough to have a feel for who these characters are, who they’re expected to be, their socioeconomic status, and the effects of certain parenting styles or the lack of it. This is show, don’t tell at its finest. It doesn’t outright tell us these things. It lets us put the pieces together for ourselves and lets us make our own assumptions.
Through thoughtful choices in costumes, props and writing, Hughes gives us just enough to parcel out who is who just to demolish that expectation as the day plays out and the characters get a chance to open up and speak for themselves. Letting the audience set up their own set of expectations just to say, no, you aren’t looking deep enough, you don’t have the entire story, you rarely ever do, is what every movie should strive to do and it’s done so with such a subtle hand. It isn’t my favorite movie, but I am in the business of giving credit where credit is due and the teens arriving is one of my favorite sequences ever. It isn’t my “favorite” movie, but it is definitely a must-see for any and every movie fan.
Thirty years and The Breakfast Club still holds up. It’s so important to the genre with how it simultaneously romanticizes the high school experience and exposes the gritty underlying reality of the pressure to grow up. Along with being taught in classrooms today, The Breakfast Club has cemented its place on a pedestal in pop culture history and is widely watched and celebrated all around the world and across generations. Not to mention the soundtrack is pretty awesome too.