Why The Breakfast Club Sucks
When’s the last time you saw the Breakfast Club? I don’t mean, the last time you watched a scene from the Breakfast Club, or talked about it with your friends. I definitely don’t mean the last time you made a reference to it, or read a Buzzfeed article about ten movie stars that defined our youth which featured Molly Ringwald as number six. I mean sat through the movie from start to finish. Because I did recently, and, was very surprised to find out that it’s a terrible movie.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, I’ll summarize it very quickly here. Five teenagers, often broken down into their stereotypes of (1) the criminal (2) the princess (3) the brain (4) the athlete and (5) the basket case, all discover that each of them is deeper than their stereotype as they spend a day in detention together. Wacky hijinks and shenanigans ensue and it all ends when they share a really deep heart to heart that we’ve come to expect and love from high school movies. Especially those that take place in the 80’s. The movies represent a time for such contemplation and wackiness that it makes it easy to forget about the struggles in Iran, a gas crisis, rising crime and terrible terrible hairstyles that I still can’t quite wrap my mind around.
It’s often touted as one of “the quintessential 80’s movies”. Its Rotten Tomatoes consensus reads, “The Breakfast Club is a warm, insightful, and very funny look into the inner lives of teenagers”. However, the one thing that everybody seems to overlook in their glowing nostalgia of a time with nylon and when people thought Duran Duran was cool for some reason is that the movie doesn’t make any sense.
Let’s start with Ally Sheedy - the basket case. Throughout the whole movie, the character is crazy. Not like fun crazy. Not the kind of crazy where you just laugh it off and go, “oh her” before wishing that you secretly had more weird quirks. Like, real crazy. Like random outbursts probably symptomatic of some larger disorder crazy. Like removing the salami from your sandwich and filling it with sugar and cap’n crunch crazy. The kind of person you don’t want to be around. Almost like your weird grandpa, but not nearly as funny (or racist) in the way that it’s evident that she should not be able to survive in functional society.
But then comes the last five minutes. She gets a makeover in which she lets her hair down and puts on a pretty dress, and we’re supposed to forget all about the fact that she’s insane and has magically transformed into a beautiful high school princess worthy of the attractive jock. She comes forward and while the music plays and Emilio Estevez’s confusing jock looks at her with lust, we’ve come to realize that she’s been beautiful this whole time. She’s just been hidden by mental instability and crazy tendencies that are clear indicators of some real psychological damage. She wears a beautiful white dress, for reasons that are never really explained and Estevez approaches her and says, “What happened to you?” before telling her that “You’re just so different. I can see your face...It’s good.”
Am I really supposed to believe this? Am I really supposed to believe that a character whom nobody wanted to spend time with all of the sudden becomes worthy of our attention because she’s slightly more attractive in the last five minutes?
In fact, this is the whole movie. We have characters all acting exactly like their stereotypes would imply: Judd Nelson’s criminal is a misogynist who sexually abuses (like, tries feeling up despite her protests) Molly Ringwald’s princess. Speaking of, Molly Ringwald’s princess is just that: an entitled jerk. Emilio Estevez’s athlete is exactly the pretty boy you’d think he is. But yet, in the last five minutes, after they all have some weird heart to heart in which they bond over their collective daddy issues, we’re supposed to believe that Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson consensually wish to get together. If a woman who was, not minutes before, almost taken advantage of, decides to get with her abuser, I find this problematic.
This isn’t even to mention the complete lack of a story that pervades for an hour and a half before this revelatory moment. Nothing happens. Like, nothing. I want you to think back and remove that moment at the very end where you hear, “Don’t you...forget about me…” and what do you really remember about the Breakfast Club? What moment in this movie sticks out to you as worthy of being a “classic”.
Which brings me to the important question: why do people love the Breakfast Club?
I’m going to propose a possible answer that is complete conjecture and based in nothing other than my own self-important theories of nostalgia and pop culture. I think that the Breakfast Club is a symbol. It’s what people believe the 80’s were. A lot of people who talk about the Breakfast Club either (a) were in high school when it came out (b) are younger and not alive when it came out. For group (a) The Breakfast Club represents a time when they thought they could change. It was the after school special in which everybody learns their lesson quickly and becomes better for it. Now that you’re in your 40’s and terrified at what life actually is, there’s this glimmer, this faint recollection of a past, in which people weren’t defined by some title. They simply overcame their title quickly.
But, for people of group (b) it’s a little more complicated. I could argue that this is some romanticizing of a zeitgeist we never were a part of. As if that time had to be better simply for the reason that it’s not now. Or maybe the movie was just built up by people in group (a) that it’s become uncool to not like the Breakfast Club. Or, most likely, the movie contains merits of which I’m unaware of because I’m a cynical jerk who thinks he’s smarter than everybody else. People genuinely like the Breakfast Club for some reason, and for some strange reason, I have a hard time dealing with that.
But, the thing I believe more than either of these is that the Breakfast Club represents what we wish life were like. Change is hard. In real life we’re very rarely the person that we wish we were. At least, I know that’s the case for me. I oftentimes look at my reflection wondering who that guy is, and why he did the things he did. And I wish I could just put on a white dress and let down my hair and all of my annoying foibles would just go away. Or, at least, do the equivalent for a male who definitely doesn’t cross dress on the weekends. I wish I could find my Molly Ringwald and apologize to her before she loves me for who I am. I put my fist in the air, having conquered my problems, the credits roll and everybody goes home happy because I’m a hero.
But, that’s never how the story ends.
It goes on. More sad moments pile on. More confrontations are avoided, more meaningless embarrassments happen, and I still don’t matter. Change doesn’t happen in five minutes. But, in movieland, it’s the easiest thing in the world. And, we wish we lived there.
The Breakfast Club is not, as it’s touted to be, a movie about how everybody’s different. It’s not about how false stereotypes are. It’s about how we wish the world functioned. It’s about a dream we have for the future. It’s about us trying our best to make it in a world we don’t understand.
But, regardless of any of that, it still sucks.