‘The Breakfast Club’ revisited: dueling reviews

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‘The Breakfast Club’ revisited: dueling reviews

By Marissa Novel, @MarissaNovelDE

Coming to age films are no stranger to the big screen. Jacob Pierce and I both reviewed the influential film “The Breakfast Club” to see if it stands up to the test of time.

Marissa Novel:

Thirty years later, “The Breakfast Club” screams “won’t you” rather than “don’t you forget about me.”


The John Hughes classic, while having said to inspire many of today’s filmmakers, is a 21st century flop because of its narrative content.

If any memories need jogging, the basic plot of this film follows five teenagers as they enter Saturday detention, which is under the reign of controlling assistant principal Richard “Dick” Vernon, played by Paul Gleason.

Cinematically, the film is genius. Despite the countless cheesy 1980s guitar riffs, the utilization of sound surpasses many of today’s feature films. The subtle echoes of fingers tapping and paper crumbling have never seemed so loud in a practically empty library. The sound of footsteps on a linoleum floor is so reminiscent of narrow high school hallways it is almost scary.

Even the more noticeable, suspenseful sound effects are impactful. The scene in which John Bender, played by Judd Nelson, is stealthily creeping above the school ceiling could have viewers on the edge of their seats.

The shots are just as immaculate visually, with each character placed in the frame in an ever-so-aesthetically pleasing manner.

To get to my main qualm with the film, the characters are so rigidly stereotyped they are harmful.

Bender, a criminal and bully, takes his insecurities out on his fellow detainees by insulting their lifestyles and even their lunches. He goes as far as sexually assaulting Claire Standish, played by Molly Ringwald, verbally and physically.

Though Standish, the popular princess, is no hero. Her superficiality is noticeable in the beginning as she turns her nose up at everyone in the library but the jock, Andrew Clark, played by Emilio Estevez. In the end, her shallowness is more overt than ever as she admits she would not be caught dead associating with more than half of her detention-friends during school hours.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Standish’s character is revealed when she seduces Bender near the end of the film, kissing him on the neck and eventually on the lips before the two part. Now, this may not be the case for all women, but being sexually attracted to someone who non-consensually peeped beneath your skirt and pestered you for information on your sex life seems outrageously unlikely.

The other characters are just as tritely obscene.

Standish’s ally, Clark, is a typical high school athlete with an anger problem. He claims he cannot think for himself, but admits he too would never associate with the lower-status members of the detention group.

The brain, Brian Ralph Johnson, played by Anthony Michael Hall, hardly stands up for himself when bullied by his new peers. Even after divulging information about his self-worth and suicide attempt, the group still forces the nerd to write their papers for them.

The basket case, Allison Reynolds, played by Ally Sheedy, is ignored entirely unless she is shaking dandruff upon her drawing or sprinkling cereal into her sandwich. She gains the attention of Clark in one scene after Standish gives her a makeover, feminizing her and removing all of her previous style.

The only time these characters empathize with each other is by way of a left-handed cigarette. While sitting in the circle may be more of an enhanced shared experience than detention, it would be refreshing to see some compassion that was not drug induced.

The one enjoyable character in the film is the custodian played by John Kapelos. The teenagers jeer him for his chosen career path only for him to retort about invading their privacy. The custodian is a working class man demanding respect from those he cleans after.

While the characters in this film upset me, the lackthereof does so more.

People of color and gays are two examples of those who are completely absent from the film. While a rural Illinois high school may have exclusively consisted of white, able-bodied young adults in the 1980s, that does not mean people of other identities did not exist.

If this review is supposed to see whether this film stood up to the test of time, it failed. By presenting such fixed stereotypes, especially in such an entertaining way, this film has perpetuated ideas about our culture that are just plain harmful.

Sexually harassing someone should not be presented as attractive. People should not be shoved into gender specific boxes. Social status should not determine friendships.

In the end, teenagers are far more deep than this film begins to attempt to explain.

2 out of 5 stars

Jacob Pierce:

Fiction is a wonderful thing. It has the ability to go beyond itself and become a piece of every person experiencing it.

“The Breakfast Club,” a 1985 film directed by John Hughes, changed several generations and still holds relevance in the digital age.

While I am biased to love “The Breakfast Club,” my critic mask came on and all of the favoritism was pushed down as best as possible. The film still comes out and shows why it has survived so many years of rip-offs, copycats and love letters.

One argument thrown at “The Breakfast Club” is its reliance on stereotypes and tropes, but looking at it on this base level misses a few huge components to the film. The first being the movie basically created these archetypes and tropes.

Before this film, the genre tended to consist of slashers or raunchy comedies like “The Slumber Party Massacre” or “Animal House.” No film touched upon the social hierarchies in high school the way “The Breakfast Club” did.

The stereotypes serve as more than an easy way to convey a character’s personality. They connect the audience, placing them into the shoes of the characters and show archetypes do not make people.

A clear example of this is assistant principal Richard Vernon, played by Paul Gleason, who could have easily been the villain but has so much more to him.

Vernon cares about the teens he is watching over, even if it is in a messed up way. This is evident in the way Gleason reacts after acting tough in front of them. When he leaves them, an expression of pain stretches across his face. Being a tough guy is something he feels he has to do.

These characters are some of the most relatable teens in film history. This comes from some great performances by the entire cast and terrific writing by John Hughes.

The film hinges on everyone’s performances. The character development emerges from the actors’ simple interactions rather than through expository dialogue.

It is evident in the way John Bender, played by Judd Nelson, shows pain after being called useless; the way Allison, played by Ally Sheedy, shows remorse when she causes the gang to badger Claire, played by Molly Ringwald, about her virginity. These little pieces add up to one huge beautiful character puzzle.

Hughes knew how to write teenagers in a way few have reached. He looked at them as people and nothing less. This is seen constantly throughout his work in the way characters talk, their feelings and flaws. Everything is genuine and feels real, as if a teenager from the 1980s wrote the film.

Much like its overall message, complex dynamics lie below the surface of the “The Breakfast Club.” With every new viewing, I find aspects I never saw before. Of course through time, certain scenes have become a little dated, but nothing brings this flick down. With themes of self-confidence, bullying, suicide and home problems, the film is still just as relevant today.

Stars: 4 out of 5.