A few years back, I created a few movie centric holidays. I’m a man of no religion, but a huge appreciation for the cinematic arts, so I needed a few high holy days to give me cause for celebration. Back to the Future week happens the week of November 12th, the date of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Die Hard Day happens Dec. 24th-25th. Rex Manning Day on May 6th, Dazed & Confused Day on May 28th… a few others. The main conceit of them is offer some personal reflection time, and to relax. Enjoy some music, some good food, the company of friends. You can read about them all in this post from a few years ago.
But today is March 24th. According to opening title cards, today is the day The Breakfast Club spent a whole day in detention, 30 long years ago (thanks to A.V. Club for posting a screen grab). In its genre, the teen flick, it’s certainly one of the best. Not the best, however, American Graffiti, Dazed & Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High are certainly superior films. But for almost 30 years, The Breakfast Club has landed with teen audiences in a way few films have. It’s helped many teens navigate the rough seas of high school.
The Breakfast Club takes 5 high school personality archetypes, the geek, the burnout, the jock, the prep and the outcast weirdo, throws them in a giant, library sized blender, and asks them to connect. It’s a completely clichéd narrative device and probably shouldn’t, by any rights, have the iconic status it has. But a masterful script from 80s teen flick guru John Hughes only uses the clichés as a mechanism to not make us identify with one character, but with all of the characters.
Over the course of the film, all of what we assume we know about the characters are slowly scraped away and picked apart till we grow to have a better understanding of who they are, and why they are who they are. Andy Clark isn’t just some dumb meat head jock. Johnny Bender isn’t just a disinterested burnout. Claire Standish isn’t just an above it all priss. They’re all going through a struggle. They’re all fighting a battle. And that’s what we, as the audience, identified with. We’ve got a struggle we’re trying to get through at that age. Knowing that everyone does too makes it that much easier to take.
I love that the film explores more realistic outcomes of their day together. It asks the question, “We’re friends right here, right now… but what about Monday?” And we get a beautifully honest answer: Probably not. Brian and Allison might hang out. But everyone’s going to go their separate ways. They kind of blew that up by pairing everyone, except Brian, off in the closing moments, but we still get the sense that that was fleeting romance. And while deep down we know that things will probably go back to status quo once the bell rings on Monday morning, we also know that Alison, Andy, Brian, Claire and John all experienced some personal growth, and that they are different, better people because of that shared experience. That gives us, the viewer, the hope that we will emerge on the other side of our struggles as different, better people.
So while the aforementioned films from Amy Heckerling, George Lucas and Richard Linklater are decidedly better films, the reason Hughes’ Breakfast Club has created such a lasting impression is that it connects the characters to each other, and to the audience, in a way that we as audiences need at the time we see it (preferably in high school… the film kind of has a shelf-life of relevancy).
Breakfast Club Day, like the movie, is about acknowledging the differences we have with the people we interact with on a daily basis, but recognizing how similar we all actually are, and how we can use both the similarities and differences to better understand one another.
Happy Breakfast Club Day, everybody!
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