Another sign I am getting old:
I watched about 80% of the seminal 1980's teen movie "The Breakfast Club" on cable last night. And I found myself identifying far more with Dick Vernon than those crazy kids.
My first thought when tuning in was whether, in this day and age, anyone would cast a movie about teen-agers in an American high school with such a lily white cast. Or keep issues such as sexual identity completely off the table.
It's almost pointless to critique a movie more than 20 years and when its aimed at a much younger, more cloistered audience who more closely resemble the five characters. I recall liking the movie quite a bit myself, watching it repeatedly into high school, but its been years since I watched more than a snippet on TV. The film isn't aimed at 30+ state employees, but at kids who do believe in the trials and hardships of being upper-middle class and showing up for school (b-o-o, h-o-o).
And I also came to the startling revelation that I have no idea what the title "The Breakfast Club" means. Is it a little used term? Does it have historical connotations? Did it just sound good? I have no clue. Someone throw me a bone.
I will give Hughes credit. When one sees the endless parade of assembly line teen comedies and tween-aimed movies starring teen-agers, which were just as common in the 80's, its a miracle anyone ever bothered to take a look at high schoolers as people. But one also finds the ending of the movie to be more than a little pat.
The jock and basket case find romance? Based on what? The prom queen sneaks into the closet with the thug and possibly has sex with him? And the principal accepts one, single-page paper which would seem stunningly out of context for ol' Dick Vernon?
There's a huge amount of fantasy that creeps in around the edges of The Breakfast Club, and that's okay. The intended audience is more likely to buy it, and it helps to cement the notion of the film that we've all got something in common once you move outside of your tribal identity. And believing it can end in smooching isn't so bad, I guess (unless you're "The Brain", in which case, no smooch for you).
Its easy to be cynical with so much water under the bridge, and looking back at your own high school career with what feels like a permanently etched wince.
I guess what struck me on this viewing was how much the script stacked the deck for John Bender. Nobody ever really challenges Bender, aside from Vernon, who more or less seems to freak him out completely. In most ways, he's a bully who dominates the conversation through shouts, an actual threat of serious physical violence, and often random humiliation. But as he's a bit charming, the audience is meant to root for him. Right up to the point when Molly Ringwald, who he's badgered, berated and made unwanted sexual advances upon for the duration, for some reason slips into the supply closet to make special time with Judd Nelson.
It speaks poorly for "Claire" as written that, apparently, any attention at all seems to be enough, and she seems to be heading into what will surely be an emotionally one-sided and possibly emotionally abusive relationship by film's end.
Brian, who admits to suicidal feelings, is more or less dismissed because he didn't do it this time. But what happens when he can't light the next elephant lamp?
Perhaps 2 hours is too little time to fit in any exploration of the more-or-less real-life issues (although I still have no idea what was supposed to be up with Ally Sheedy. She's never really given any story), but its surprising how well the movie has succeeded despite the fact it doesn't really try to close the loop on the situations thrown out to move the characters beyond their stereotypes.
Perhaps the staying power stems from the fact its a movie that acknowledges its intended audience as having an inner-emotional life that isn't the usual, cheesy fair one sees in after achool specials, or that goes beyond the "will the cheerleaders win the cheer-off?" plots that most teen-oriented films contain, the film has held up for over two decades.
The movie acknowledges sex, overbearing/ suffocating parents, finding out someone gets hit at home... a lot of the messy stuff that pops up in high school but for which the audience doesn't have a serious tool-kit yet for managing. And so, in many ways, its appropriate that we don't know what happens on Monday morning, or even Saturday night with these characters. There's no American Graffitti style conclusion.
I wish today's kids the best with the movie. They'll never believe the soundtrack sold like crazy, or that the Molly Ringwald dance became sort of a thing, but there you go. But I would honestly like to see the movie re-made. Or something along those lines, if for no other reason than so that maybe teen-agers can see some reflection of high school on the screen that doesn't come from "The Hills", "Gossip Girl", or the latest teen-sex romp. It'd be nice to acknowledge at that age that you're a human, and not just so you can be marketed to, pitched a lifestyle, or given some small thrills with your cheap laughs.