Don’t forget about me
The Breakfast Club is not John Hughes’ most successful film, nor the funniest one. However, the unusual characteristics of its closed structure made it the manifesto of one of the most influential directors of American cinema in the 1980s. By extension, the story of five boys who have to spend a Saturday in punishment in their high school library retains the image of its entire era.
The script respects the three Aristotelian units so rigorously that they seem inert. The Breakfast Club is a film in which the actions are only told by the characters with long sequences of dialogue. The stillness is only sometimes enlivened by musical interludes that have no choreographic intent. And yet, it is precisely this essentiality that shows all the key points of John Hughes’ writing.
The substantial fixed space of the setting escapes the accusation of filmed theater for the recurrent use of the internal assembly and the first floor. The Breakfast Club uses all the means available to cinema to steal an emotion that its characters are ashamed of. John Hughes combines them by subtraction with his extraordinary ability to interpret a generational feeling. Indeed, it is impossible to separate the fragility of its young people from the historical context of the Reagan myth. Their diversity was even more opposed in a superstructure that preached conformism to healthy American values. Their temptation to escape the obsession with competition was the idea of a social disturbance.
The high school students of The Breakfast Club not only have the fear of not realizing themselves but even that of not existing at all. Thus, Molly Ringwald suffers her sexual instincts from the fear of not being up to it and consequently pretends to be an object of desire. The first-time topic recurs in almost all conversations in an explicit way by the standards of thirty-five years ago. The Breakfast Club is not a film in which the characters talk to each other because their anxieties are shared by the public.
John Hughes was able not only to understand and synthesize them, but also to show them with a look of benevolence and complicity. The idea of reversing the typical relationships of teen-comedy betrays a mediation work. The uptown girl is attracted to the hooligan instead of the athlete. Instead, the handsome Emilio Estevez finds a point of contact with the misfit. Couple games are a clear intervention of narrative manipulation. The fact that the geek remains outside tries to dampen the expedient that there is always a place for everyone. However, the rest of the film proceeds following a script open to improvisation and the suggestions of the moment. The Breakfast Club was so identifying because often the harmony between the cast and the director cancels the acting barrier.
After all, the main objective of the film is to expose the inner truth of the boys. An uncomfortable soul that hides even more behind their markedly typed composition. The typical narrative functions of John Hughes’ cinema become even more explicit within a plot reduced to the minimum necessary. Judd Nelson is amazing in embodying the uncontainable will to power of youth. His annoying rebellious soul serves to stimulate and release those drives constantly repressed by the family and school context. His insolent perseverance leads to the collective confession of the extreme gesture that has the origin of punishment. A cathartic act in which everyone throws the mask and shows their weakness and their true disposition.
John Gleason is equally adequate to decline all forms of authority, according to another mirror scheme typical of John Hughes’ films. In fact, the portion of adults is almost always limited to the projection of teenage terror of becoming like them. The principal complains with the janitor that the young people have become indolent and disrespectful. The attendant points out that the teenagers are always the same, while his life and career have aged and changed him. All the characters of The Breakfast Club try to escape the awareness of this metamorphosis. Their conversations are imbued with the fear of not being understood, loved and remembered for what they were before this moment.
Maturity is an achievement that renders disillusioned and empathetic even towards one’s children. His contrast with a painful but vital immaturity is the centerpiece of every John Hughes film. So, Ally Sheedy closes the long sequence of liberation with a sentence that sums up all her cinema: when one grows up, her heart dies.