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Movie Review

Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you." But a high schooler might want to pull out poor and put in its place cliques.

Cliques. Those ruthless stereotypes that sort every adolescent into the "appropriate" social strata, categories hermetically sealed by the caste system of popularity. After all, what do athletes and popular girls have to do with geeks and stoners?

The Breakfast Club suggests the answer is this: a lot more than you might think.

It's Saturday, March 24, 1984. A little before 7:00 a.m., five high school students arrive to serve a day of detention for crimes and misdemeanors committed at school (some more serious than others). There's pampered Claire Standish (whom the film dubs the "princess"), wrestling star Andrew Clark (the "athlete"), academic whiz Brian Johnson (the "brain"), artsy oddball Allison Reynolds (the "basket case") and, finally, the world-weary rebel without a cause John Bender (the "criminal").

Five kids with nothing in common. Except, that is, their shared loathing for their "warden," Assistant Principal Richard Vernon (whom Bender has a penchant for calling Dick in a not-so-nice way).

Vernon's assignment for his irascible inmates? Write an essay "describing to me who you think you are."

Don't make any noise, he adds. And don't move, not even to go to the bathroom. After all, his office isn't far away, he says, and all the doors between the kids' library holding cell and him are to remain open.

Right.

Vernon doesn't stay in his office. Nor do these five clique champions, as it were, follow any of his instructions for very long. These comrades in crime don't get off to a good start, you should know, with Bender antagonizing everyone. But it's a very different club by the time breakfast gives way to dinner.

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Positive Elements

If The Breakfast Club were a book club, we'd be reading about how underneath all the surface differences that separate teens—differences created and exacerbated by looks, money, family history and intelligence—there's even more similarity. All of these adolescents are struggling to cope with hard things in their lives (often related to poor family situations; more on that later). They realize they're all running scared, silently dealing with shame and insecurity. Ultimately, it's suggested that the new bonds of friendship they've forged might even be deep enough to overcome the cliquish forces that ordinarily would have ensured that none of them ever actually had a conversation.

Bender is the most damaged of the five, if one can judge such things by actions alone. He's antisocial, meanspirited and outrageously angry. He frequently lambastes the others early on, especially rich Claire, prompting Andrew to come to her defense. And Bender remains pretty volatile throughout the story, but we're eventually taught that his alienation and rage are the product of a father who beats and belittles him.

Similarly, one of the movie's most poignant scenes has to do with Andrew, who confesses he's in detention for having taped a classmate's bare backside in a locker room. He says he did it to please his father. "I got the feeling he was disappointed in me, that I never cut loose on anyone." Then he describes his regret and shame for the bullying thing he'd done. "Afterwards, in Vernon's office, all I could think about was Larry's father, and Larry having to go home and explain what happened to him. And the humiliation, the f---ing humiliation he must have felt. How do you apologize for something like that? There's no way. It's all because of my old man."

The Breakfast Club doesn't have much good to say about any of these kids' parents, I'll note. But it arguably illustrates the great damage done to children by divorce, neglect and the selfishness of disconnected moms and dads.

Spiritual Content

Bender sarcastically crosses himself.

Sexual Content

While hiding from Vernon, Bender ends up underneath a desk in front of Claire, where he and the camera look up her skirt (seeing her underwear). Bender and Claire eventually strike up an attraction and kiss. They wind up in a broom closet together, where it's unclear whether anything beyond kissing happens. Andrew and Allison also share a kiss.

The subject of virginity comes up repeatedly, with Bender using the term "cherry" derogatorily to describe virgins. Allison holds forth on the "double-edged sword" of teen female sexuality, saying, "If you say you haven't [had sex], you're a prude. If you say you have, you're a slut. It's a trap. You want to, but you can't. Then when you do, you wish you didn't, right?" She finally says she thinks sex is OK if you really love someone. There's speculation about whether Claire and Brian are virgins and whether Claire is a manipulative tease. Brian lies about his sexual status, then confesses. And that prompts Claire to say, "I think it's OK for a guy to be a virgin."

Bender narrates a hypothetical depiction of heavy petting. Allison spins a wild story about her supposed sexual escapades. She calls herself a nymphomaniac and lies about even having an affair with her married psychiatrist.

Bender jokes about impregnating a girl. And he mocks Andrew for being a wrestler, saying, "I have a deep admiration for guys who roll around on the floor with other guys." We hear quips about wet dreams, elephant genitals, French kissing, going to school naked on a dare and a "nudie pic" with a "beaver shot" (which Allison says she found in Brian's wallet).

Violent Content

Bender and Andrew tussle, with Andrew pinning Bender easily. Bender then retrieves a switchblade from his coat, whips it open and waves it threateningly at Andrew.

Bender falls through the ceiling tiles while sneaking around. Vernon tells Bender that after he graduates, he hopes he runs into him so he can "knock your d--k in the dirt." Bender's undaunted, and he talks about suffering physical abuse at the hands of his raging father, showing a scar on his arm from one of the man's lit cigars. In fits of rebellious anger, he tears up books and knocks things off the shelves in the library.

We hear that somebody had been contemplating suicide for failing a class.

Crude or Profane Language

About 25 uses each of the f- and s-words. "A--hole" and "b--ch" are used six or seven times each. "H---," "a--" and "p---" are all used as well. About 10 references to the male anatomy include "balls," "pr--k" and "d--k." "F-ggot" is lobbed into the mix once. We see several obscene hand gestures. God's name is taken in vain a dozen times (three or four times with "d--n").

Drug and Alcohol Content

The gang sneaks marijuana out of Bender's locker. Several of them then toke on joints. Bender sets his shoe on fire, which he uses to light and smoke a cigarette. He says his father got him a carton of cigs for Christmas, and he meanly mocks Claire's mom, calling her a "poor rich drunk mother." Allison says she likes vodka. Vernon drinks a beer in the teacher's lounge.

Other Negative Elements

Bender asserts, "Being bad feels pretty good." He tells Brian, "If you say you get along with your parents, well, you're a liar." And Andrew says of his father, "I f---ing hate him. He's like this mindless machine that I can't even relate to anymore." Later he asks, "My god, are we gonna be like our parents?" Claire responds, "Not me. Ever." But Allison says, "It's unavoidable. It just happens." And when Allison says, "My home life is unsatisfying," Andrew responds, "Well, everyone's home life is unsatisfying. If it wasn't, people would live with their parents forever."

Indeed, with the exception of Carl (the school's janitor), all the adults we see or hear about are depicted as self-absorbed, unloving, bullying, immature and abusive. Vernon, for his part, sees his relationship with the students as a war of power in which the kids are the enemy. He locks Bender in a closet, calling him a "lying sack of s---" and a "gutless turd."

There's talk of public urination and a dirty jockstrap.

Conclusion

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that happens in The Breakfast Club is that this group of five disillusioned, angry, alienated, angst-and-ennui filled teens actually complete the assignment Mr. Vernon gave them.

In a concluding voiceover, Brian and his recently released convicts intone, "Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain … and an athlete … and a basket case … a princess … and a criminal."

It's an upbeat message if still belligerent, a final reminder that the superficial differences that separate teens—and all of us, for that matter—aren't as deep as they appear.

The downbeat message that never gets resolved? The movie's grim vision of parenthood, family and adulthood. At one point, Claire says of her divorced parents, "They just use me to get back at each other." Imitating what his father thinks of him, Bender rants that his dad thinks he's a "stupid, worthless, no-good, g--d--n, freeloading son of a b--ch, retarded, big mouth know-it-all, a--hole jerk." And perhaps no one articulates the prevailing worldview better than Allison, who says simply, "When you grow up, your heart dies."

In a single sentence? To be an adult, a parent, is a to be a mindless, self-absorbed dead thing with no capacity to help those who still long for love and life—read: teens—to navigate the complex world they live in.

A 30TH ANNIVERSARY RE-RELEASE UPDATE: In the three decades since The Breakfast Club premiered, it's been hailed as the high-water mark in director John Hughes' short but storied storytelling career. (Hughes also directed Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Curly Sue.) Watching the film within the context of 2015 instead of 1985, I was perhaps most struck by the fact that it posits an utterly unbridgeable gap between adults and teens that seems less true today than it might have felt then. The angst and insecurity these teens face together still rings true. But the antagonistic relationship they have with adults, as well as their perspective on adulthood, has the anachronistic feel of an age when the Generation Gap was a far bigger deal than it seems 30 years later.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Emilio Estevez as Andrew Clark; Molly Ringwald as Claire Standish; Judd Nelson as John Bender; Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson; Ally Sheedy as Allison Reynolds; Paul Gleason as Richard Vernon; John Kapelos as Carl

Director

John Hughes ( )

Distributor

Universal Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

February 7, 1985

On Video

March 10, 2015

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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