When you grow up, your heart dies. If that phrase means nothing to you, please stop right here. (Hi, Dad!) I’m here today to talk about The Breakfast Club, the seminal 1985 classic that happens to be one of the most important teen movies of all time. Its premise is breathtaking in its simplicty: What happens when a prototypical brain (Anthony Michael Hall), jock (Emilio Estevez), criminal (Judd Nelson), princess (Molly Ringwald) and basketcase (Ally Sheedy) are forced to spend a Saturday in high school detention together? Their eight hours in the Shermer High library is intended to be a makeshift jail, but it’s essentially a cocoon. This is where they share family secrets and reveal their inner-most fears — with one ill-conceived makeover to boot. Writer and director John Hughes brilliantly illustrates that deep down, we’re all a little bit bratty and rebellious and insecure and screwed up.
The Breakfast Club is now approaching its 33rd birthday. It’s a cynical millennial staring down the barrel of grey hair and under-eye concealer. Nelson is now 58 years old. Pause for shock. But the film’s age doesn’t mean its message of self-acceptance is any less timeless. (Right, Lady Bird fans?) The truth is that when you grow up, your heart doesn’t really die — it just becomes a little more attached to the movies that defined that your youth.
Perhaps that’s why Criterion recently added The Breakfast Club to its prestigious collection. No doubt it’s worthy of your next Saturday afternoon. The centerpiece is a 4k digital restoration cut of the classic film. That’s fancy talk for the fact that Claire’s diamond earrings now shine off the screen. But for all its technological advancements, I was riveted by the time capsule element of the disc. We get hours of archival footage, including rare Hughes interviews. I also ate up the arcane trivia, courtesy of fresh commentary from Sheedy and Ringwald and Nelson’s narration of Hughes’ original production notes. I have several books about ’80s movies on my shelf — alas, I’m older than 33 — and even I didn’t know that Claire’s name was originally Cathy. I wrote an essay about what exactly I think I learned.
1. The Characters Were Color-Coded
The proof is right there in Hughes’ red Mead 3-subject spiral notebook, in which he scribbled all his ideas in 1982. Each character is dressed to represent a specific primary color. The virginal Claire is white (though she’s dressed in powder pink on camera); rebel Bender is red; all-American wrestler Andrew is blue; nerdy Brian is yellow; and misfit Allison is black. However, each student wears a different color underneath the external layer to show that they can’t be contained to their labels. By contrast, their library setting is decidedly bland and neutral. Never understimate the power and symbolism of a production design.
2. High, Everybody!
Ringwald improvised the entire scene in which her character smokes pot for the first time and brags about her popularity. In Hughes’ original script, Bender convinced everyone to light up using his stash — except he purposely obstained to maintain control over them. But Sheedy insisted that Allison, a loner at heart, would be more comfortable holed up in a secluded area of the library and listening to music. Hughes agreed. The scene was cut.
3. Ally Sheedy Played Two Roles
Don’t you forget about the very beginning of the film — and I’m not talking about the Simple Minds classic. On the stark black screen, Hughes featured a poignant quote about “children that you spit on/as they try to change their worlds” from David Bowie’s “Changes.” It was Sheedy who worshipped Bowie and served as Hughes’ musical muse. She showed Hughes the lyrics because she thought the words were an apt description of the film. The inspired writer/director, in turn, got permission from Bowie to include it. Sheedy also insisted on the Allison role because, she says, “that’s how I felt on the inside when I was in high school.”
4. The Original Cut Was Almost as Long as Titanic
Fine, not exactly. But it was a whopping 2.5 hours long. The disc features 50 minutes worth of fascinating deleted and extended footage that closes the loops on many of The Breakfast Club‘s threads. At long last, Carl (John Kapelos) explains in exact detail how he became a janitor. Before telling the students that the clock is broken, he also predicts the future for each of them. (Andy is going to regret marrying a stewardess; Claire is going to regret the boob jobs.) We also see Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) escort the teens take the bathroom break, permitting two minutes for the guys and three for the ladies. Allison eats in the bathroom stall, much to Claire’s disgust. Allison ransacks the teachers’ lockers; Claire reveals she bought nail polish and records the day she ditched school to go shopping; Vernon spills coffee on himself and grouses, “this is a beautiful life”; Brian breaks it to Bender that Claire is most definitely not interested in him. Lie.
5. Jane Pauley Didn’t Get It
The former Today show cohost may be a terrific broadcast journalist, but in 1985, she essentially thought The Breakfast Club involved scrambled eggs and a side hash browns. In two awkward live cast interviews on Today (one with Ringwald and Nelson, the other with Sheedy, Estevez and Hall), she fumbles her way through a series of off-key questions. She asks Sheedy why she wasn’t cast as the princess because she’s such a beauty. She wants to know how a “prepster” like Nelson could act against type. And, in the most eye brow-raising moment, she wonders aloud how The Breakfast Club compares to the 1983 comedy The Big Chill. It’s up to Estevez to note that the other film features an older group of friends looking back on their college days — the opposite of five virtual strangers currently struggling with their high school experiences. Ugh, adults and their demands.
The Breakfast Club Criterion Collection Blu-Ray is now on sale
Also published on Medium.