Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Breakfast Club (1985) (Review)

The Breakfast Club is a John Hughes film from 1984. It bears all the hallmarks of a low budget, low risk film. The cast is small. There are no special effects. There are no actors on board who break the budget, but they are all well known enough in teen films of the era. The film doesn't even have a set. Instead, he filmed it it a real high school at nights and on weekends.

The copy that I watched on Netflix has not aged well. I remember the colors as brighter and the tone as clearer. Perhaps that was merely my rosy-eyed youth, as I haven't seen the film since '85, or maybe I've just gotten used to digital stock.

The film is more of a drama than a comedy, featuring five high-schoolers who have to spend 8 hours in Saturday detention. They have literally been sentenced to boredom and an essay. We meet all these characters, all these purposeful stereotypes, who we contribute our prejudices to before we even know them, which is entirely the point.

The main motivator of the film is John Bender, and ADHD young man with many problems. For literally the first half of the film, if the pace slacks even the tiniest bit, it's Bender who gets bored and makes things happen. He jumps into the plot truck, fills it with TNT, and aims for the front door. Without him, I dare say, there would be no film. Every other character had every reason to shut up, sit down, and wait out the boredom. But even with motivation, Bender can't stop because he's got this motor running in him. I'm not kidding when I call him ADHD. The character literally can't stay in his seat.

I found Molly Ringwald's performance note perfect. I never doubted her character, or her humanity, for a second. Where Bender was over the top, a person that you couldn't know, Molly played the girl that you did know. She really could have sat next to you, and really been that narcissistic as only teenagers can be.

I found Ally Sheedy's character conflicted. I feel like I saw two characters, one who was the character that John Hughes wrote, and the other, the physical character, who Ally created. As long as Ally remained seated, you believed that character, but the moment that she stood, her posture was too strong even when it wasn't supposed to be strong. She screamed "dancer" to me. Looking at her bio, yeah, ballet. You can't take the posture out of a dancer. To be honest, I liked Ally's take on the character far better than I liked John Hughe's take on the character. Inherently, the problem with silent characters is that they are silent, and that always poses a problem in films where exposing oneself is the point of the film. In the end, her character felt plopped out, just as she dumped her bag onto the sofa.

Anthony Michael Hall returned as the smart kid in all his adorable dorkiness, but perhaps a little too so. Perhaps because geeks start off as human beings, so thinly masked, you never discover quite so much about them, and what you do discover, you expect.

Emilio Estevez put in a performance as a sports guy, a wrestler. I thank John for not making him a football player, but it was winter/early spring and there wouldn't be football anyway.

The script has its issues, often hitting the limitations of the both the medium and the writer. This was a tough concept to pull off, and I'd have to say that John Hughes eeked out a competent script, but maybe not the script that he wanted, and certainly not the script that he could have developed with more time. At some point, you have to film the damned thing and he filmed it.

I'd love to see the cutting room floor. I am absolutely certain that there were more scenes in this film than made the final edit. At 90 minutes, the film was short even by 80's standards, which lends me to believe that pacing drove the need to cut the extra scenes, or perhaps the studio mandate that the film only be 90 minutes. There are definitely places in the film where a few more lines here and there would have made it roll along better.

I most definitely salute the costume designer for the film. The costumes for each character telegraph exactly what you need to know about each character without feeling cliched. For example, the smart guy wasn't at all dressed like a stereotypical nerd, yet you did take him for the dork that he was, through a combination of his haircut and his lack of fashion. These costumes screamed "bring along your preconceptions", but never made you eat those preconceptions. I love the whole metaphor of taking off coats and layers in this film, for as the characters take off layers, we find what's underneath what we see. Bender, in particular, wears layer upon layer, as does Allison. Where Bender is always more of the same, for his layers of self-defense are deep, Allison reveals white in stark contrast to her dark outer layer, for inside she is light, purer than she may otherwise seem.

Each character began in a car, and even the cars told you about their station and their family life. The cars wound up telegraphing far more about the characters than their clothing did. In just a few moments, you knew about each character's family life without one word being spoken on the subject, most magnificently with Bender, who walks to school, no connection at all to his parents.

After getting to know everyone's stereotype in the early film, the later film slowly breaks those stereotypes. It doesn't strip away the reasons for why each character drifted into their stereotype, but it does let them go beyond those types, letting them be more human. Brian smokes weed, the strange girl doesn't smoke weed, and all the kids close ranks against the vice principal even if they don't like one another. Eventually they all wind up on the floor, talking, revealing themselves to each other, and judging their peers as well.

As the 90 minutes wrap up, you feel as ready to go as they do. You are happy to see the light of day. You're happy to be done with Bender. Then you walk out of the theatre, and maybe you watch that film again thirty years later.