After you finish watching The Breakfast Club, chances are the first thing you do is Google “why do they call themselves The Breakfast Club?” Chances are the second thing you do are google “what is Judd Nelson doing now?” or “Who did the don’t forget about me song?” But most certainly you’ll forget about the movie with no lasting impact.
This is strange, because The Breakfast Club is a film so deeply rooted in nostalgia that we automatically think of it as the best-of-the-best of John Hughes and high school movies. We examine five students, only two of whom share something in common (Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez, who both play popular characters) as they try to get through a Saturday morning detention together as the watchful, stodgy principal lurks by. They all start off as strangers then cozy up to one another with stories about parents who are overbearing or absent, the Catch-22 of losing your virginity and being a slut or staying a virgin and being a prude, and the pressures of belonging to an elite social circle.
They’re strong themes, several of which Hughes touches upon in his other high school films. But the themes and messages aren’t as impactful because we simply do not care about the breakfast clubbers as much as Samantha from Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller. The only person who gives us something memorable and transcendent is Judd Nelson, with his apathetic criminal character showing real pathos when talking about his problems with his father. And the relationship that sparks between Judd and Molly’s characters is authentic, it’s deafened by the unnecessary romance that blossoms between Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy’s characters.
The Emilio-Ally romance is also kind of tone deaf, since Ally had to “change” and “become beautiful” for Emilio to notice her. It’s like at the end of Grease when Sandy totally changes her image and personality just to suit Danny’s desires. That was more of a fantasy/musical type movie, but in The Breakfast Club, where we’re trying to appreciate and recognize people for who they are beyond their labels, having one of the girls change herself and then get recognized by the cool guy is a mixed message that dampens the film. If anything, this romance should have been nixed and Emilio should have struck up a stronger friendship with Anthony Michael Hall, showing how the athlete and the geek could settle their differences and become friends.
But maybe that was the point that John Hughes was trying to get across: That in high school and beyond, we all recognize that we’re part of these respective roles and circles, each of which come with overbearing pressure, but even though we say we want to rise above them, we still cling to our positions and our groups, always afraid to let go to see what else may be on the horizon.
Even if that was John Hughes’ point, it definitely wasn’t the one that got across to moviegoers, who still think of this movie as the ultimate display that there is more to the jock and the weird girl and the homecoming queen and the nerd than meets the eye. We never know if the five of these teens ever decided to hang out again after the film closes. But by that point in the movie, we honestly just wouldn’t care even if they did.