With everything that "The Breakfast Club" has become over the last 25 years, it's difficult to peel away the pop culture muck and appreciate the elements the film executes so flawlessly. It's the quintessential teen drama; a compassionate, insightful, and intense motion picture that brings to life the soulful concerns of high schoolers without reducing them to bottom-feeding cliché or marketable Facebook bullet points. It's John Hughes's masterwork: the film that has defined his oeuvre and renewed faith in the industry's capacity for intelligent, youth-slanted cinema.
Gathering early on a Saturday morning for detention at Shermer High School, Brian the brain (Anthony Michael Hall), Claire the princess (Molly Ringwald), Andrew the athlete (Emilio Estevez), Bender the criminal (Judd Nelson), and Allison the basket cast (Ally Sheedy) have come to contemplate their delinquent actions. Monitored by Principal Richard Vernon (the late Paul Gleason), the group is combative, maneuvering around opposing social status and mental health concerns; but as the day wears on, these five strangers start to learn about each other, soon communicating their darkest fears, opening up and developing relationships that wouldn't dare come to pass during regular school hours.
There's no doubt that "Breakfast Club" is high-tide melodrama. Hughes draws from a dense pool of stereotypes to unify these characters, who putter about the day inadvertently breaking down social obstructions. In his highly theatrical screenplay, Hughes labels these kids loudly, cleanly drawing the dividing lines that will soon be wiped clean. Opening with a supportive, literally explosive David Bowie quote, Hughes has a specific agenda of discovery for "Breakfast" that eluded the rest of his work; a drive to reveal to the screen the dramatic engineering of the teen experience, idealized through lofty monologues and disrespectful communication.
Perhaps the harshness is why I consider "Breakfast" Hughes's most enduring work. The detention doesn't bring the kids closer in a prayer-circle-style joining of hands, but through a more brutal hazing period, led by the sneering rebel Bender, who puts his fellow detainees through his own trial of judgment. Maybe the caustic dialogue emits from the patient, articulate pen of a thirtysomething screenwriter, but the sentiment rushes through the veins of the piece, instilling the feature with needed hostility as the kids try to decode each other through annoyance, jesting, and simple pleas for attention.
"Breakfast Club" is alive with details (one could almost smell the library interior or Vernon's aftershave), again reinforces Hughes's musical selection supremacy, and is cast with a superb spectrum of actors who try to engage the screenplay on their own terms. They take Hughes's expansive stabs at profundity and channel it through their clever, nuanced tics of teenaged behavior, landing the thematic construction of the picture softly inside sincerely inspired performances. I love them all here, with special attention paid to the combative interplay between Gleason and Nelson. The gentlemen bring terror to the material as Vernon searches for a way to capsize Bender and become the alpha male of the morning, robbing the role of one-note wicked ways, revealing Vernon as a haggard man with a genuine fear of his charges and their potentially catastrophic role in his elderly years.
Of course, "Breakfast" contains a jovial mood to match the encroaching gravity. Hughes is wise to illustrate the gang as willing goofs, soon united in making Vernon's day the worst possible. Again, the interplay of the cast is key here, with each actor sacrificing a certain part of their ego to maintain a sense of communal exploration as the students get high, bop around the library, and engage in impromptu makeovers before the day is over. "Breakfast" is frequently hilarious. Who else but Hughes could work in a "Bridge on the River Kwai" reference, present a lunchtime offering of a Cap'n-Crunch-n-Pixy-Stick sandwich, and construct a Lesteresque hallway chase, and still bring the film down to a manageable size.
The sobering, iconic final act, where the group finally discloses their uncertainties and argumentatively works out their public personas, is where "Breakfast" cuts the deepest. Hughes rests comfortably in his element during a confessional moment like this, imparting the screenplay with germane high school and domestic stories of psychological trauma. Even if one couldn't relate to the isolation and nakedness of the sequence, the resounding vibration coming off the actors remains something to behold. There's not a single false beat to be found, concluding "Breakfast" with a singular display of emotional discharge unheard of in its genre.
The VC-1 encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation for "The Breakfast Club" is served with a surprisingly delicate hand. The presence of fine grain helps to elevate a film-like appearance for the picture, sustaining the details of the frame, from the expressive faces (and their careful make-up) of the cast to the library detention center, with the BD permitting a chance to pore over the set and costume design. Colors are natural and stable, coming across confidently when the action enters different environments (loved the blue neon lighting in the library). Shadow detail doesn't always preserve the more difficult pockets of visual information, but the effort is stable, good with hair and fabrics. It's a 25-year-old film, but this Blu-ray treats "The Breakfast Club" well, offering a pleasurable viewing experience that shines a little brighter in high definition.
Granted, the 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix isn't exactly taxed to the fullest with "The Breakfast Club," but the endeavor here is smooth and inviting, with the low-fi antics of the picture gifted a clean, crisp track. Dialogue exchanges are consistent and pert, with good frontal hold to grab attention. Soundtrack cuts provide some dimensional activity and low-end response (best heard with a charmingly echoed "Don't You (Forget About Me)" title track), blended suitably with the mix to bring some energy to a famously talky picture. Not a sonic wonderland to show off the new sound system, "The Breakfast Club" is instead treated delicately, holding true to the intimate intent of the film. A French 2.0 track is available.
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
Ported over from the 2008 DVD...
A feature-length audio commentary from actors Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson (with help from disc producer Jason Hillhouse) kicks off the "Breakfast Club" supplementary action on a dispiriting note. Hall and Nelson are game to talk up the film, and they put their special stamp on the track with discussions of the looping process, the intricacies of the splendid library set (built inside a gym), and the extensive rehearsal process Hughes insisted on. Actual stories of production are wholeheartedly welcome, but the track is quick to fall apart, with everyone in the room taking turns either describing action onscreen (the old "play by play" commentary), or speculating on themes and motivations.
Irritatingly, moderator Hillhouse acts as though he was a crew member on the film, commenting on the action like an insider, immediately discarding his role as interviewer. Want to learn more on the Hughes directorial process? The widely reported tension between the actors? A comment on any potential sequels that have been threatened for decades? Nope. The track is a conversational piece. Enjoy it as a chance to spend time with Hall and Judd, just don't expect any insight.
"Sincerely Yours" (51:09) is a mostly trivial discussion of intent, music, and meaning from the cast and crew (including Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and costume designer Marilyn Vance), along with a special peanut gallery made up of movie journalists and filmmakers (Michael Lehmann, Amy Heckerling, Marco Siega, and Diablo Cody). Not surprisingly, the offering is most potent when questioning the actual Breakfast Club on the production experience. Nelson is especially animated, submitting carefully considered thoughts on the meaning of character actions and shedding some interesting light on a few of the picture's controversial moments. Criminally, no Ringwald and no Estevez. However, there's a poignant tribute to Paul Gleason.
"The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origin of the Brat Pack" (5:35) explores the sordid history of writer David Blum and his New York Magazine cover story that branded the hot young actors of the day as a collective group of miscreants. The miscreants were not pleased.
Battered by disingenuous MTV adoration, diluted through the reprehensible marketing plans of the 2008 documentary "American Teen," and contorted to become the definitive mocking voice of a generation, it's easy to gloss over what "Breakfast Club" achieves with a beautiful, modest effort. It's a story of communication and hesitant friendship, and at the heart of it all is a sincere feature of concern and catharsis within a demographic that's often disregarded. Hughes paints the discontent and frustration like a master. No matter how much the media tries to water down the resonance of the picture by underlining the era in which it was made, it doesn't take away the profound characterizations and filmmaking offered for exquisite emotional contemplation.