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March 24th, 1984: “The Breakfast Club” Took Place Thirty Years Ago

March 24, 2014

By John Corrado

The Breakfast Club Poster“Saturday, March 24th, 1984.”  These are the first words we hear in The Breakfast Club, the day exactly thirty years ago when “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal” were forced together during weekend detention, realizing that they were more than just these stereotypes.

This is an interesting anniversary to be celebrating, because The Breakfast Club was actually released in 1985, and the thirty year mark of the film will technically be celebrated next year.  But the film has become such an important part of pop culture over the past nearly three decades, that the anniversary of when the story took place seems like an appropriate one to be recognizing.

The iconic classic remains one of the best high school movies of all time, a brilliantly written study of adolescence from the indelible voice of the late John Hughes.

For reasons that we come to understand throughout the film, the five teens are forced to spend their Saturday in detention, under the strict watch of principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleeson).  They all hail from different subgroups, a mix of popular kids and outcasts who on the surface couldn’t be more different.  Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) is athletic, where Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) is nerdy.  Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) is an offbeat misfit, and Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) is pretty and popular.  John Bender (Judd Nelson) is a rebel, and the one who rocks their group just enough to bring them together.

I’m a big fan of John Hughes, and The Breakfast Club is undoubtedly one of his finest achievements as a writer and director, making full use of a narrative that is contained to a single day and setting.  Nearly five years after his untimely death, there is a reason why his best films remain so revered and beloved, even as each passing anniversary takes us farther away from the initial release dates.  Coincidentally, his 1984 directorial debut Sixteen Candles really is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year.  Some of his best screenplays were the ones that deftly balanced humour with more dramatic elements, like the reason behind the car getting kicked out the window in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the bittersweet ending of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Likewise, The Breakfast Club is filled with biting humour, but the film never shies away from darker issues like depression and bullying, and the scene where John Bender literally acts out the abuse he endures at home remains one of the most powerful and unforgettable moments.  It’s also a big turning point for the characters, when themselves and the audience start to realize that there is more beneath the surface of their preconceived labels, and they are more than the subgroups that high school has put them in.  Like all of us, they are more than just their challenges which are revealed over a moving extended scene in the last act, which makes their subsequent dance all the more uplifting and cathartic.

We don’t really know where these people will end up after this day, or if they will even continue talking to each other.  But we hope they are going to find ways to be okay, as the iconic Simple Minds song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays in the background over that perfect final scene.  Although they don’t have cellphones or other electronic devices, watching The Breakfast Club now, it’s amazing how relevant the film still feels.  Depression, anxiety, the importance of being yourself while still finding a way to fit in, John Hughes dealt with it all using humour and pathos, memorable characters brought to life through believable performances.

But most of all he beautifully showed us that on the morning of March 24th exactly thirty years ago, these five people were all alone in their problems, and by that afternoon they were bound together merely by knowing they weren’t alone.  They were and will always be The Breakfast Club.

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