When I was a freshman in college in the 1980s, I went to an annual showing of “Rebel Without A Cause,” which was hailed as the first major film to capture teen angst. And I laughed my ass off at how unintentionally funny it was. The film was clearly very dated, and outside of Sal Mineo’s character, it was tough to identify with anything going on.
I certainly didn’t think it was as good as, say, “The Breakfast Club”:
This past weekend marked the 30th anniversary of the defining teen-angst film of the 1980s — which means that we are currently as far removed from “The Breakfast Club” as people in 1985 were from “Rebel Without A Cause.” Was it possible that modern teens would laugh at “The Breakfast Club” the same way that I laughed at “Rebel Without A Cause”?
There was only one way to be sure. I asked my 14-year old son, Sam, to watch the film with me. He was the perfect subject. The characters in “The Breakfast Club” went to a large suburban high school; so does my son. The characters in “The Breakfast Club” offered their unfiltered opinions about a lot of things; so does my son.
He read the plot description on Amazon Prime: “Saturday detention? That seems harsh.”
I took notes and steeled myself for mockery as we sat down to watch it. Here are my findings:
WHAT AGED WELL ABOUT “THE BREAKFAST CLUB”
I am happy to report to Generation Xers that at the end of the film, Sam described it as both “entrancing” and “well-acted.” He appreciated how his first perceptions of the characters — particularly Judd Nelson’s Bender — changed as the film progressed. As the son of a geek, it was not surprising that he identified most closely with Anthony Michael Hall’s Brian Johnson. He certainly empathized with the common lament among the film’s characters that their parents understood them.
Like his old man (who was captain of his high school math team back in the day), Sam further agreed that it was completely outrageous that Ally Sheedy’s Allison and Emilio Estevez’s Andrew paired up. Obviously, Allison should have been with Anthony Michael Hall’s Brian.
This was pretty gratifying, as I was worried that The Breakfast Club would only live on through “Pitch Perfect” viewings. But unlike movies that bore Sam, he was intrigued and watched to the end. So I don’t think he was just trying to humor his father.
WHAT HAS AGED BADLY ABOUT ‘THE BREAKFAST CLUB” — SUPERFICIAL EDITION
Let’s face it, other John Hughes teen films had not aged well. As my wife puts it, watched in 2015, “Sixteen Candles” seems “a little bit racist and a little bit rapey.”
While “The Breakfast Club” has fared better, it doesn’t emerge in 2015 completely unscathed.
The most obvious source of merriment for Sam was the music. The moment the first chords of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” started playing, he laughed and called the song “cheesy.” But that was nothing compared to seeing my son fall on the floor, laughing so hard that he was crying, at this scene:
There were other outdated references. When Bender asked Vernon if Barry Manilow knew if he’d raided his wardrobe, Sam turned to me and asked, “Who’s Barry Manilow?” Later on, when Vernon bragged about making $31,000 a year, Sam turned to me and asked, “was that a lot of money back in 1985?”
WHAT HAS AGED BADLY ABOUT “THE BREAKFAST CLUB” — DEEP EDITION
I wasn’t too surprised to hear Sam explain that the archetypes embodied in “The Breakfast Club” didn’t really exist in today’s suburban high school. As he put it, “today a lot of those character traits have blurred together.” But he made two other points that I did find pleasantly surprising.
First, he suggested that today’s teens do not feel quite as alienated from their parents as they were in 1985. This is obviously based on his own experience, but it’s certainly true that really problematic statistics like teen pregnancy and dropout rates have been trending in the right direction for a while now. maybe, just maybe, the bulk of American parents and teens have steered between the Scylla of pure alienation and the Charybdis of helicopter parenting.
His most surprising observation, however, was his assertion that that there was no way someone like Paul Gleason’s Richard Vernon — “a bitter, out-of-touch man” according to Sam — would be able to endure as a vice-principal given his behavior in the film.
He’s got a point. Throughout the course of the film, Vernon bullies the students, dares Bender to fight him, has a swimsuit calendar in his office, pores over confidential personnel files, and drinks on campus. If that reflects Vernon’s typical modus vivendi, Sam is right, he’d have gotten fired or sued in this century. And it was certainly encouraging to hear Sam say that none of his teachers or administrators were like that.
So, my findings:
- “The Breakfast Club” has aged better than “Rebel Without A Cause” or “Sixteen Candles.”
- The movie still shows its age in ways both large and small.
- The big ways the movie seems outdated seem like good news for America’s educational system.
- You can learn a lot about your teenage children from watching “The Breakfast Club” with them. So go forth and do likewise.