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On February 15, 1985, The Breakfast Club hit theaters across America. In the three decades since its release, the 97-minute John Hughes comedy has become enduringly popular with critics and audiences. The Hollywood Reporter’s original Feb. 11 review, a not particularly glowing one, is below:
High school detention, most will attest, is a grim and dull experience. This film is not only about high school detention, it is similar to it. Audience members may feel like they’ve been sentenced, along with the five principals, to a day in the library, just sitting and doing nothing. While high schoolers will recognize some shrewd satiric hits in Breakfast Club, the film is tedious and unpredictable. Unless the nation’s teachers decide to make it required viewing, this grueling Illinois-set presentation should be about as popular with teenage moviegoers as additional homework.
Overextended, with high-school size Big Chill revelations, this John Hughes film centers on five different, yet representative, high school types: a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. In short, they have nothing in common other than their plight and a mutual aversion for their supercilious and bullying principal (Paul Gleason), who is supervising the detention.
While meticulously drawn, the film’s characters are so stereotypically representative that only the lamest of moviegoers will not determine their respective backgrounds and problems long before the plodding movie does.
Here’s a sneak quiz for those of you who haven’t seen the movie but think you may be able to guess everything about it. Because this film has some depth, one or more answers may be correct.
1. The wrong-side-of-the-tracks tough kid (John Bender): a. secretly yearns to pledge a fraternity at Northwestern; b. has been physically abused by his father; c. sells Herbalife in his spare time.
2. The popular, competitive beauty queen (Molly Ringwald): a. is an insecure virgin whose mother is an alcoholic; b. hangs out at Arlington Park in the $2 betting line; c. is physically attracted to the tough.
3. The stoic, eager-to-please jock (Emilio Estevez): a. plays in a punk band on the side; b. is manipulated by his father and high school coach; c. reads the trades underneath his blankets at night.
4. The spaced-out basket case member of The Breakfast Club (Ally Sheedy): a. is a nymphomaniac who does it with her shrink; b. is ignored by her parents and her peers; c. works as a publicist for Marshall Field.
5. The exemplary grade-grubbing but earnest brain (Anthony Michael Hall): a. becomes suicidal when he flunks a course; b. made it with some Canadian girls at Niagara Falls; c. carries a stash in his underwear.
Highest grades in this film go to Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald as the class brain and class butterfly, respectively. Hall’s innocent and earnest naivete makes his performance one of the best youth portrayals in recent films. Ringwald, alternately snide and simple-minded, opens a dimension of endearing vulnerability in her role. Estevez as the jock and Bender as the thug are convincing as well. Sheedy’s performance as a hysterical loner is overwrought and seemingly amateurish.
Still, The Breakfast Club deserves credit for venturing beyond the formulaic, timid patterns of most youth movies. Writer-director John Hughes, who has demonstrated a blazing satirical sense of Middle America in past work (notably his articles in National Lampoon), provides some savvy social and personal insights in the film. However, in the static, one-set structure of the film they don’t generate enough impact to pass as entertainment.
Technical credits are passable with some shrewd use (but not enough) music to counterpoint the story. — Duane Byrge
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