Th signature achievement of the reign of John Hughes. During his run, Hughes wrote and/or directed the following teen dramedies– Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, Uncle Buck and Career Opportunities.
Hughes offered a certain corporatized schmaltz and sentiment, and there are worse Hollywood epitaphs. Hughes also provided a silly, devil-may-care ethos for affluent suburban high schoolers (Hughes grew up middle class in tony Grosse Pointe, Michigan) and he could deliver a bravura screwball scene, such as Ferris Bueller’s rock out during a Chicago parade or John Candy crashing a teen party in Uncle Buck. At the end of his films, a trite lesson was always learned, and opposites always came together for a hug of understanding.
Nestled in this treacle, however, was a bit of nastiness fully realized in The Breakfast Club. A group of kids – the geek (Anthony Michael Hall), the jock (Emilio Estevez), the weirdo (Ally Sheedy), the hood (Judd Nelson), and the “it” girl (Molly Ringwald) – all must spend a Saturday in detention together. It becomes a group therapy session, and the archetypes – initially hostile to each other – soon find solidarity in their hatred of the school administrator (Paul Gleason) and the fact that it appears they each have something in common – an oppression at the hands of their cretinous parents. Nelson is burned by cigarettes (given the school, one presumes Dunhills); Hall is so pushed to succeed academically he has contemplated suicide; Estevez is also driven by his overbearing father, and his torture is so great he actually starts to punch himself ; and Ringwald explains her homelife thusly when asked if she can go to a party:
I don’t know, my mom said I was [grounded] but my dad told me to just blow her off.
Big party at Stubbies, parents are in Europe. Should be pretty wild…
Yeah, can you go?
I doubt it…
Well ’cause if I do what my mother tells me not to do, it’s because because my father says it’s okay. There’s like this whole big monster deal, it’s endless and it’s a total drag. It’s like any minute… divorce…
Who do you like better?
You like your old man better than your mom?
They’re both strict.
No, I mean, if you had to choose between them.
I dunno, I’d probably go live with my brother. I mean, I don’t think either one of them gives a shit about me…it’s like they use me just to get back at each other.
Hall adds: “…I don’t like my parents either, I don’t…I don’t get along with them…their idea of parental compassion is just, you know, wacko!”
Then it is the jock’s turn: “Um, I’m here today…because uh, because my coach and my father don’t want me to blow my ride. See I get treated differently because uh, Coach thinks I’m a winner. So does my old man. I’m not a winner because I wanna be one… I’m a winner because I got strength and speed. Kinda like a race horse. That’s about how involved I am in what’s happening to me.”
Cue the tough, doing his own impression of his house: “(as his father) Stupid, worthless, no good, God damned, freeloading, son of a bitch, retarded, bigmouth, know it all, asshole, jerk! (as his mother) You forgot ugly, lazy and disrespectful.”
The jock rejoins, explaining that he taped a classmate’s ass together. Why? “I did it for my old man…I tortured this poor kid, because I wanted him to think that I was cool. He’s always going off about, you know, when he was in school… the wild things he used to do . . . it’s all because of me and my old man. Oh God, I fucking hate him! He’s like this…he’s like this mindless machine that I can’t even relate to anymore…’Andrew, you’ve got to be number one! I won’t tolerate any losers in this family…Your intensity is for shit! Win. Win! WIN!!!’ You son of a bitch! You know, sometimes, I wish my knee would give…and I wouldn’t be able to wrestle anymore. And he could forget all about me…”
Just to make sure we get the message, Gleason is the biggest prick in the world, an amalgamation of every insecure, bullying teacher in the continental United States.
There’s not a genuine moment in the picture nor a hint of deviation from its blame-shifting orthodoxy.
Hughes has always included some of this foolishness – the parents in Uncle Buck are too committed to their jobs, Alan Ruck’s father in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off cares more for his sports car than his son.
But The Breakfast Club’s attack on the cruel, neglectful parents is the primary theme of the picture and Hughes uses it to portray these five kids (three of whom do appear to be sh**heads of the highest order) as victims.
Look, children can be obnoxious, and teens doubly so, but there is perhaps nothing more unpleasant than encountering a self-pitying teen who bemoans his vaunted station just as he nears the age when lesser forebears were jumping into a hot LZ in Vietnam.
Hughes died recently of a heart attack. He was a bit of a recluse in his later years. I wonder if the stereotype of the suffering, whining rich kid he presented in The Breakfast Club contributed to his distress, either because he was prescient and had to live with it or he felt he had a hand in cementing the mold.
In a Vanity Fair piece after Hughes’s’ death, David Kamp wrote “As hoary as it sounds, The Breakfast Club spoke to a generation.”
Unfortunately, it appears they were listening.