The phrase “it’s of its time” could well have been invented for retrospective discussion of ‘The Breakfast Club’. There are parts of John Hughes’s seminal 1985 high school movie which have aged poorly. The rest of it however remains as funny, profound, and as universally truthful as it ever was. Newly re-released in the UK on the Criterion Collection, there has never been a better time to revisit this definitive 80s teen movie.
You know the plot: five teens have been given Saturday detention, and this simple set up provides the perfect base from which comedy and drama are mined. They are all from wildly different backgrounds and social groups, with each representing an archetypal view of teenagers. There’s the jock (Emilio Estevez), the nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), the rebel (Judd Nelson), the weirdo (Ally Sheedy), and the prom queen (Molly Ringwald).
At the start of the film that’s how they all see each other, but as the day goes on, and they begin to break down each other’s defences (sometimes funny, sometime devastating), tentative bonds are formed, and they learn there is so much more to each of them than the labels they have been tagged with. Sure, it’s a little trite and goofy at times, but the emotional baggage and angst still hits the mark.
Filmed almost entirely in a single location, and driven by Hughes’s sharply written script, ‘The Breakfast Club’ feels more like a play than a movie. The first act of which is dominated by Judd Nelson’s powerhouse performance as troubled teen John Bender. Nelson, along with Sheedy and Estevez deliver the more showy, scene-stealing performances. As the film progresses, and moves into more emotional territory, Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald come to the fore. The latter arguably achieved 80s icon status after this film, but it’s the former whose painfully observed performance hits the hardest, and stays with you the longest.
Punctuated with moments of broad comedy, what resonates the most about ‘The Breakfast Club’ however—and the reason it is still finding new audiences nearly 40-years later—is its universal themes of alienated youth, the experience of being a teen, and generational divide. Pressure to achieve. Pressure to fit in. Parents who don’t listen. Teachers who don’t care. The clothes and haircuts and music might be different, but when a film speaks this much truth, people will continue to listen.
‘The Breakfast Club’ remains a classic of the era, and is a solid 4-star movie. What takes this release to 5-star territory is the wonderfully curated selection of supplementary features on the disc. It kicks off with an audio commentary track recorded in 2008 with Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall. There are then more than 50-minutes of deleted and extended scenes. This is archival, unrestored footage excised from the original rough cut.
‘Sincerely Yours’ is a documentary from 2008 featuring contributions from actors Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and John Kapelos. There’s also interviews with filmmaker fans such as Amy Heckerling, Diablo Cody, and Michael Lehmann.
The disc then delves into a treasure trove of interviews, starting with Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald, interviewed in 2017 exclusively for the Criterion Collection. This excellent two-header is followed up with a series of onset interviews from 1984, including Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy. There are also two terrific audio interviews with John Hughes, the first is a seminar from the AFI in 1985, and the second from radio talk show Sound Opinions in 1999.
Unearthed from the archives is the original electronic press kit, with cast and crew profiles, the original trailer, and a behind the scenes featurette. There’s also an excerpt from a 1985 episode of NBC’s Today with interviews with all five main cast members. Next up is ‘Describe the Ruckus’ – a video essay from 2017 made by the Criterion Collection, featuring Judd Nelson reading from John Hughes’s production notes.
Finally, an episode of the Chicago Public Media radio program ‘This American Life’. Molly Ringwald is interviewed about what happened when she watched ‘The Breakfast Club’ with her daughter, and for the first time saw the movie from the point of view of the parents, and not the teenagers. You might recall this interview being the jumping off point for the widely read New Yorker article she wrote in 2018.
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy Director: John Hughes Writer: John Hughes Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: 15 Duration: 97 mins Release Date: 23rd January 2023