John Hughes’ follow-up to Sixteen Candles bears its thesis in the opening and closing voiceovers of the film. It’s a before and after shot of what it means to be a teenager, to be human, to “come of age,” and to struggle with the “powers that be” who lord over, determine, and control our lives. Some of them are more benign than others, and then again, some of them are Principal Dick Vernon (Paul Gleason).
“Saturday, March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong, what we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are, what do you care? You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.”–Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall)
There’s the athlete, Andy (Emilio Estevez), the princess, Claire (Molly Ringwald), the troublemaker, John (Judd Nelson), the basket case, Allison (Ally Sheedy), and the nerd, Johnson. They’re tormented for different reasons by Vernon, and the school janitor (John Kapelos). But ultimately, they’re most troubled by the level of expectations heaped on them by their parents and the various levels of second-guessing that come from the way adults see them. They have come to believe the labels and ‘pigeon-holing’ that they’ve experienced their whole lives.
Is it funny? Absolutely. But it should also trouble anyone with a reasonable amount of influence on younger people (of all ages). Labels stick. But this special edition, digitally remastered and fully restored from the original film elements includes enough bonus features to let us dig into the material a bit. There’s a trivia track for fun, and then it gets a bit more insightful: “Sincerely Yours” (in twelve parts), “The Most Convenient Definitions,” and commentary by Hall and Nelson. If this film was one of your funnier memories of the 1980s, then you’ll appreciate the amount of coverage of the film gets here.
But I’m still moved by my latest viewing, especially by Bender’s recounting of the way his mother and father relate, and the way he is subsequently treated by Vernon. Kids believe what they hear – and teenagers aren’t much different. Words hurt, and leave lasting scars. We as a society are guilty of not caring about that enough.
Still there’s hope. Sometimes, a moment or a person breaks through and sees us the way we want to be seen, or the way we could be seen. In this case, it’s the motley Wizard of Oz-like crew who sees each other like new, for the first time. And everything changes, beautifully. Maybe it takes more than this – it usually takes time. But The Breakfast Club proves sometimes, we can actually change, with help.
“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, in 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. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”– Johnson et al.rating: buy it