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The Breakfast Club

In my opinion, “The Breakfast Club” is John Hughes’ best film. Its bittersweet story of teenage stereotypes and peer pressure is heartbreakingly real. The weight that these teenagers feel from society and their peers is clearly evident. Five teenagers are assigned all-day Saturday detention for various reasons that we find out throughout the film. Each character fulfils a certain high-school stereotype; the athlete, the nerd, the basket-case, the rebel and the princess.

 

The iconic Breakfast Club pose

The iconic Breakfast Club pose

The bleak monotony of their everyday lives is hilariously displayed through the microcosm of the detention and high school setting. The entire film is set inside a school with only two scenes containing exterior shots, though both are on school grounds. This creates a very insular feel to the film, giving the audience a reminder of what it feels like to be stuck in school.

 

Normally I would denounce the use of stereotypes in films as they are usually crude stock portraits that simplify the teenage experience. However, in “The Breakfast Club” while they indulge in the typical aforementioned stereotypes they portray them so realistically and with such complexity that I forgive Hughes for his stereotyping. All of the characters within this film are complex and tragic. Despite their different positions in the high-school hierarchy they all are trying to meet society’s expectations of them. Whether it be getting straight A’s or getting caught smoking. This film shows that once people have decided in their minds what kind of person you are they immediately cast assumptions upon you. This is exemplified in the character of Mr Vernon whose obvious bias towards Bender allows the audience to empathise with the intimidating rebel character wonderfully depicted by Judd Nelson.  

 

The Breakfast Club and their letter

The Breakfast Club and their letter

Another element of this film which surprised me was the smoking of marijuana in the library by the five main characters. But the really surprising thing was that none of them got caught. Normally in films targeted to a younger demographic the moral “crime and punishment” lesson is rammed down the throat of the viewer. However, in this film the characters are allowed to commit numerous acts of rebellion without retribution. Despite the fact that all five characters are in detention they seem to break out of their “prison”, literally and metaphorically. The only punishment is Bender’s isolation and emotional abuse by Mr Vernon which achingly demonstrates one of the reasons why Bender is the way he is. The stellar cast of Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy demonstrate Hughes’ eye for casting. All five actors peaked in this film with the performances hitting exactly the right note somewhere between frustrated rebellion and bittersweet acceptance.

 

An amazing scene where the characters confess why they're in detention

An amazing scene where the characters confess why they're in detention

This film clearly demonstrates John Hughes’ ability to empathetically portray teen characters that his audiences can relate to. I’m giving this film a four out of five because not only is it one of my favourite movies but I think it universally speaks to teenagers everywhere- a feat that every filmmaker aspires to… genuinely connecting with their audience.

Pretty in Pink

The poster for the film Pretty in Pink

The poster for the film Pretty in Pink

The film “Pretty in Pink” was written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch. The absence of Hughes in the directorial role is apparent throughout the film as an indefinable element seems to be lacking from the film. The humanity and joy that was evident in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club” is stilted in this movie as the audience does not completely empathise with the characters. “Pretty in Pink” is about a girl called Andie Walsh who lives on the wrong side of the tracks and is in love with Blane, a boy from the right side of the tracks. There’s also Duckie, Andie’s best friend who is clearly in love with her but jokes about it to mask his true feelings. And there’s Steff, Blane’s friend whose snobbery acts as a barrier between Andie and Blane. All of these characters exist in this world where the divide between the rich and the poor is physically crossed by walking across the school ground but emotionally it takes a lot longer to breach the divide.

 

The characters Blane, Andie and Duckie

The characters Blane, Andie and Duckie

This film was the first of Hughes’ where class tensions were explored. Before this film Hughes characters had existed in this white middle-class American limbo where all the houses were big and white and class tensions were non-existent. In this film Andie’s father is not only unemployed but there is an unspoken implication that he is an alcoholic. These issues of class divides were touched upon in “The Breakfast Club” but “Pretty in Pink” explores and highlights these issues within American society. This film goes beyond the usual stereotype of geek and jock that dominates Hughes’ past films and instead focuses on the unspoken truth that America has a caste system, even in high school.

 

The eccentric character of Duckie

The eccentric character of Duckie

Duckie, played by Jon Cryer, is one of Hughes’ most original characters. Duckie was the first character to fill the role of the eccentric best friend, a role that is now a staple in any teen movie. His clothes, mannerisms and personality were completely original for the time. Shades of another Hughes’ character, Ferris Bueller, can be seen in Duckie’s character though Duckie seems to be more cynical and bitter than the fun-seeking Bueller.

 

One of the most controversial aspects of “Pretty in Pink” is the ending. Without giving away the ending let’s just say popularity and attractiveness win out over personality. A little known fact is that the writer, Hughes, was forced to change the ending to make it more audience-friendly as the executives thought that the original ending was not commercial enough. While many fans argue that the ending they chose was wrong it is still considered a classic teen film. Hughes was famous for his ability to accurately depict teenage life and “Pretty in Pink” is an excellent example of his genius.

What do you think about “Pretty in Pink”? Some critics argue that the ending was wrong, if you’ve seen the film, do you agree?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

John Hughes wrote and directed “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in 1986. The film stars Matthew Broderick who is best known for this role, having a rather non-descript career after the monumental success of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. The film also stars Jennifer Grey who went on to star in “Dirty Dancing” before fading into obscurity. The film concerns Ferris Bueller, a high school senior, who decides to fake an illness to skip school. Ferris convinces his best friend, Cameron, and his girlfriend, Sloane, to join him and they travel into Chicago together. Whilst Ferris is enjoying his day of freedom the high school population has heard about his “illness” and have started campaigning to “Save Ferris!” Hilarity ensues as Ferris’ jealous sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) and the high school principal Ed Rooney conspire to catch Ferris in the act of truancy.

 

Ferris singing Twist and Shout on top of the parade float

Ferris singing Twist and Shout on top of the parade float

 “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was one of those rare films that seemed to be filled with joy and humanity. It captured the universal cravings for freedom and rebellion that teenagers feel on a daily basis. The infamous Ferris Bueller was the poster-boy for teenage rebellion but in a very relatable and charming way. In the John Hughes’ film “The Breakfast Club” the insubordinate character of Bender was the antithesis of Ferris Bueller as he rebelled in a negative and confrontational way while Ferris Bueller rebelled with a playful demeanour and cheeky smile. This eccentric personality made Ferris Bueller one of the most memorable and original characters of John Hughes’ films.

 

Ferris Bueller on his day off

Ferris Bueller on his day off

This movie was the ultimate teen power film. In a move away from traditional high school movies of the time the power was taken from the authority figures and given to the students. This was symbolised by Ferris Bueller’s continual thwarting and manipulation of any authority figure within a five mile radius. The character of Ferris Bueller became this mythic figure, inspiring high school teens to charity, commandeering parades and most importantly getting away with everything. This unusual representation of a high school student who not only found his way around the system but constantly mocked it was a refreshing change from the usual teen fare of angst, depression and misunderstanding parents. One technique that Hughes used in this film was ‘breaking the fourth wall’. This involves a character speaking directly to the camera and thus ‘breaking the wall’ between the film and the audience. This was particularly effective in this film as it made Ferris Bueller seem like a friend who was talking to you exclusively. This made him seem more human and not just this eccentric rebel. This technique also helped to narrate the story and explain Bueller’s actions throughout the film.

 

The character of Ed Rooney, who is the principal of Ferris’ high school, is also a humorous addition to the film. Unlike generic authority figures in most high school movies, Ed Rooney’s personality is actually quite well-developed and significant within the film. Ed Rooney would be the primary antagonist of the film as his continual attempts at authority and control over Ferris are the main driving points of the film.

 

Ed Rooney, the infamous principal

Ed Rooney, the infamous principal

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is not only a hilarious movie but one that can speak to the kid in all of us. It’s essence of joy and playfulness make this film timeless as even teenagers today can relate to Ferris and his yearnings for autonomy and entertainment. I’m going to give this film 4 out of 5 because “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is truly a great film with a wonderful script and amusing actors.

What did you think of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”? Did you think it deserved the critical and commercial success it received?

Sixteen Candles

The iconic image from the classic film

The iconic image from the classic film

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film Sixteen Candles was John Hughes’ first film as a director setting him firmly in the role of the director who could understand “teenspeak”. Throughout his career Hughes was acclaimed for his ability to encapsulate the angst and drama of the teenage experience without being condescending.

Sixteen Candles revolves around Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald- who appeared in numerous films by Hughes) whose family forgets her birthday because her pretty self-absorbed sister is getting married the next day. However, more importantly, this film is about Jake Ryan. Jake Ryan is the typical teenage girl fantasy; he’s rich, nice, good-looking and is searching for a “serious relationship”. This fictional delusion has even inspired a cult following with “I Heart Jake Ryan” t-shirts available over the internet. Samantha loves Jake Ryan from a distance and thinks that we would never notice a girl like her.

This film has been associated with the beginning of the Brat Pack as its Hughes’ first directorial debut in the teen genre. It also catapulted Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall to stardom and led to many other films that were a product of the Brat Pack, such as The Breakfast Club, St Elmos Fire and Weird Science.

The movie poster of Sixteen Candles

The movie poster of Sixteen Candles

Ringwald’s depiction of Samantha beautifully captures the awkward and often embarrassing existence of the average teen. While the language is now dated the issues and psychology inherent within the film still remains relevant today.

Stereotypes dominate the film, as they did in many of Hughes’ films, though one could argue that this was just a reflection and response to the settings of his films, many of which were set in high school. One stereotype in this film was the role of “The Geek” played by Anthony Michael Hall who bet his friends he could get Samantha’s underpants for a dozen floppy disks. While this is obviously a cliche Hall’s portrayal is at times sensitive and frequently humorous- the film does not mock geeks but embraces their quirks. All the characters in John Hughes’ films, even those that are stereotypes, are multi-dimensional individuals. This is most clearly demonstrated in Hughes’ classic film The Breakfast Club.

Another stereotype which has divided critics is the character of Long Duk Dong, the Chinese exchange student who stays in Samantha’s house. Some critics believe that this character is a racist portrayal of a Chinese person. Others, like critic Roger Ebert, believe that the actor Gedde Watanabe who played Dong “eleveates his role from a potentially offensive stereotype to high comedy”.

Long Duk Dong "the Chinaman"

Long Duk Dong "the Chinaman"

Essentially this film is about wish fulfillment. This film is for every teenage girl who has looked on from afar and wished that she was the girl on that guy’s arm. It is a film that is not only surprisingly human but surprisingly real as well. The opinions and dreams of the teenagers in this film are simple and lovingly crafted. It also shows us a time when teen films actually seemed to be about characters and their bittersweet dreams rather than how much gratuitous sex and violence they can engage in within a two-hour period.

I would give this film 3 1/2 out of 5 as while it is an excellent film, when compared to other John Hughes films its just not as memorable or heartbreaking. Please comment and tell me what you think of this film and John Hughes. Also what do you think is the best John Hughes movie? I’ll be reviewing more movies each week