Shamedown #6: The Breakfast Club

Another Shamedown is upon us, and it’s another teen angst-fest. First, though, if anyone would like to know what a Shamedown is, please have a look at Cinema ShameOkeydokey, off we go…


The late John Hughes was a master of the youth film. My personal favorite is Pretty In Pink, but I’m always interested in seeing his other movies, and The Breakfast Club is by far the most iconic. Starring the Brat Pack, it’s considered the greatest teen film of all time.

The structure of the film is like a one-act play: Five teens from different social groups are thrown together for a day in detention. There’s Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), the popular girl, Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) the college-bound jock, John Bender (Judd Nelson) the resident bad boy, Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) the science nerd, and Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) the artsy loner. These kids couldn’t be more different from one another, but as time goes on, there’s a gradual unpacking of, well, everything.

The Breakfast Club opens with a quote from Bowie’s “Changes“: …And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”


The date is March 24, 1984, and the time is just before 7AM. Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois is quiet, and over scenes of typical high school life we hear Brian’s voice reading a letter addressed to the principal: “You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions…That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.”

Our five principles march in and plop down in their seats according to the dictates of their types. Claire and Andrew sit sullenly, because they’re not usually troublemakers and that they’re even in detention is abhorrent to them. Brian sits at the table behind them until Bender comes in and makes him move. It’s obvious that Brian is pushed around a lot and guys like Bender do the pushing.


However, Brian and Bender may have more in common than they realize, as they inadvertantly mirror each other’s mannerisms. The big difference is that Bender gets two chairs. The second chair seems to be for putting his feet up, but it’s really a barricade between himself and anyone who tries to get close to him.

Meanwhile, Allison goes out of her way to keep her distance from the group. She takes the longest possible route to her chair and sits with her back to the other four, where she glowers and doesn’t say anything. For the first half of the movie the most she does is squeak and occasionally smile at what the other four are doing.


The adults in our little play are the principal, Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason) and the janitor, Carl (John Kapelos). Mr. Vernon became a teacher because he thought he’d be shaping young minds and making a difference, but lately he’s turned cynical and power-mad, willing to dig into a student’s confidential files so he can use it against them.

Vernon thinks the kids have turned on him, but Carl knows better. A former Big Man On Campus, Carl knows more about the staff and students than anyone, and he’s not shy about saying so. Our five leads look cornered when Carl tells them he’s seen the insides of their lockers. “Oh, and by the way,” he adds, by way of pouring salt on the wound, “that {library} clock is twenty minutes fast.”


Authority lurks right across the hall, with the library door open to Vernon’s office, but when Bender gets the bright idea of taking the bolt off the door, that’s when the proverbial mice start playing. Bender starts laying everyone’s stuff bare. He thinks Brian has a perfect Leave It To Beaver existence, and Claire is a spoiled rich girl with secret dirty tendencies. Bender doesn’t dare tell Andrew what he thinks of Andrew’s home life, because Andrew looks like he’ll clean Bender’s clock.

However, Bender reveals his own abusive home life, complete with cigar burns on his arm. Everything these characters don’t want to reveal is literally dragged kicking and screaming into the limelight, and they’re angry about it. No one wants to say why they’re in detention, either, but that may change.


All in all, it’s a very long Saturday. The library becomes too small as the day goes on, and after lunch the group sneaks over to Bender’s locker, where he pulls out a packet of marijuana. I find it interesting that The Breakfast Club only shows the characters loosening up when they get high, but drugs do have a way of acting like truth serum. And it does bring a little levity to a pretty heavy script.

My husband loves this movie. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I don’t like these characters, but I don’t think I’m supposed to. Some things they do are really gross, like when Allison uses her own dandruff to make snow on a sketch she’s drawn of a covered bridge (Ugh. Just typing that makes me gag). Bender is a foul-mouthed jerk who takes out his anger on others and sexually harasses Claire. The film earns its R-rating for language, which is to be expected.


People often say that adults who watch The Breakfast Club should reach back to their own high school years so they can look at these characters from the proper perspective. My high school self would have loathed The Breakfast Club crowd–I had no desire to watch this movie even when I was within its target demographic.

My senior photo, 1995.

Personality-wise, I was probably closest to Allison, except that I never put Cap’n Crunch and Pixy Stik dust in a sandwich. I also never used dandruff as an art medium or lied about myself to other people. Except for my small circle of friends, I was pretty much a loner who read poetry while my classmates danced to Ace of Base. I didn’t go to prom or date anyone, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I was hard on myself to the point of being mad at God for my lot in life, and He let me rant. My mom also provided a listening ear, and she allowed me to struggle because she knew it would benefit me in the end. It did; I grew up to dislike wasting headspace on things I couldn’t control, and unlike some of my peers, I didn’t abandon Christianity. Having a bit of wiggle room to ask questions and let off steam did a world of good.

The former school used in the film, Des Plaines, Illinois, now an Illinois State Police Post. (Filming Locations of Chicago and Los Angeles)

Even so, by the time senior year rolled around, I just wanted to be out of high school. College suited me much better, because among other things I was treated like an adult and no one cared how much I read. High school is a time I don’t particularly like to revisit, but on one level I can’t get away from it. In August my nephew is going to be a senior at the school I went to, and I occasionally run into former classmates because Small Town Life.



As an adult, I appreciate the character development in The Breakfast Club. John Hughes knew these kids really well, and he allowed his actors to know their characters really well. It gives the film an edgy realism that can’t be scripted. It’s a cliche, but there’s a lot of raw honesty.

Late in the film the characters ponder whether or not they’ll acknowledge each other come Monday. Will they be friends, or will the social barriers go up again? None of them can say for sure. Oh, and they don’t get along with their parents, of course, not even Brian, who seems to have a perfect Cleaver-esque life.


The characters may go at each other most of the time, but when they get light, they get light, and it always feels like a milestone. Early on, these five whistle the theme to The Bridge Over the River Kwai and I smiled in spite of myself. I had to smile again towards the end of the film when they dance around the library, because it showed they were comfortable enough to literally let their hair down. It seems to be a payoff of sorts even though they’re still in their de facto incarceration.

In the end, the group leaves different when they went in, knowing that their social barriers aren’t as airtight as they previously believed. The world may seem a little brighter. The characters may even carry little bits of each other with them after having experienced what it’s like to be the nerd, the jock, the princess, the loner, and the bad boy. It’s been a battle, but they’re better for it, and they all feel like they’ve won.


I have to wonder what kinds of adults these kids would have grown up into. I also have to wonder if the whole process will repeat itself when Bender goes back the following Saturday, not to mention the two months of Saturdays he has coming.

It’s because of its verisimilitude that I can’t completely discount The Breakfast Club. I may not like the characters all that much, but the struggles of growing up and overcoming prejudice are real. That’s why the movie will continue to be a classic.


Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you tomorrow for Michaela’s Janet Leigh Blogathon and my review of another film ode to growing up. Hasta luego

The Breakfast Club is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Shamedown #6: The Breakfast Club

  1. I keep meaning to rewatch this one. It’s been years. I actually saw it in the theater when it was new, and I was certainly the right age for it (I graduated HS in ’84), and yet I had the same mixed feelings about it you do — even then. I appreciate the overall message (break down those needless barriers, kids, and get to really know and appreciate each other), but it always felt like I was being programmed to feel those things, so … I don’t know. I couldn’t love it like so many other people did. It would be interesting to watch it again so many years later!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is–it definitely makes you look at it differently. Plus the way they’re constantly going at each other. I guess it’s natural, but it feels kinda ugly. Ah, human nature. 🙂


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