A beautiful and telling portrait of teenage rebellion that announced the rejection of yuppy culture in favour of one of spirited malcontent or a puff-ball fantasy of idealised youth? The Breakfast Club inspires myriad "readings"- it's also an allegory for the diverse sub-cultures of the school environment- and yet also remains a pop culture mainstay cited and treasured as a coming of age film for all ages.
But, fuck all that - the reason it's still incredibly popular and an iconic event in cinema for those who grew up at the right time to enjoy it is that it is a great example of perfect character-based story-telling, with conflict, resolution and awkward teenage romance. And that enduring popularity has seen the John Hughes classic finally released to Blu-ray this week.The genius of The Breakfast Club is that if someone asks what it's about, it is almost impossible to describe the plot without just relying on the school detention setting as the major focus- "It's just five socially different kids holed up in detention together". Sounds riveting broken down like that, but the real enjoyment in the film is the manner in which the five central characters (well six if you include the iconic performance of Paul Gleason as Principal Richard Vernon) interact and gradually overcome their differences by the end of the film.That chemistry is all down to the performances of the young actors, and the script that wonderfully draws their roles - Brian the brain (Anthony Michael Hall), Andrew the athlete (Emilio Estevez), Claire the princess (Molly Ringwald), Allison the basketcase (Ally Sheedy) and Bender the criminal (Judd Nelson).
John Hughes' greatest skill is his ability to offer utterly believable characters - he understands his characters exactly, so they each exhibit perfectly formed idiosyncracies and are perfectly convincing as teenagers. When every other script writer was making their teenagers make crude sexual jokes, or talk obviously inauthentically, Hughes' characters transcended their fictional status as people began not only to emphasise with them, but also to see them as typical. So, people would say they were like a certain Breakfast Club character, not the other way round- thus recognising the truth and authenticity in the characters. The Breakfast Club is probably the most gentle of all 1980s teen movies, in that it isn't overtly about everyone having sex with one another, or bringing down the establishments and agencies of adult oppression- instead it is about self-discovery and the idea that no matter what the oppression, or the negative effect of profiling, it is possible to both be oneself, and find kindred spirits in a world once thought utterly isolating. Unlike Porkies or Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club members don't exactly bring down the establishment, they simply find new places within it to exist and find some happiness.
So, even though not much happens in terms of actual plot, it is possible to be completely drawn in to the film- the characters aren't fools, we don't laugh at them, we are dropped into their world for a little while and we grow as they do on screen. That is the definition of successful character-led story-telling. But then we already knew that was Hughes' forte.