The Breakfast Club

Breakfast ClubYelling one minute, giggling the next, while cool music plays throughout.  Welcome to The Breakfast Club, John Hughes’ 1985 comedy-drama about five teenagers confined to a Saturday detention in the Shermer High School library in Shermer, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

Each one of the five kids represents a different kind of high school culture.  Although wrestler Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), teen beauty Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), and brainy Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) come from wealthy families, they each represent a separate segment of high school society.  Likewise, rebellious John Bender (Judd Nelson) and spooky Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) come from the wrong side of the tracks, but one is brash and outgoing while the other is quiet and shy.

The teacher who rides herd on the five of them is Richard “Dick” Vernon (Paul Gleason), an assistant principal who is rough and disillusioned with his profession.  The only other adult character of any consequence is the philosophical janitor, Carl Reed (John Kapelos) who enlightens both Dick and the kids.

John creates the drama as he pushes against the rich kids and makes fun of the dork, both strutting his anger at coming from a poor, ignorant family and concealing his own fear for his future.  He teases Claire about being a virgin, Andrew about being a dumb jock, and Brian about not fitting in.  As the day goes on, they gradually become friends, laughing, dancing, shouting, and opening up about their deepest truths and fears.

There isn’t much of a plot here, but that’s not important.  Most of the movie dedicates itself to the theme that in spite of outside differences, we’re all pretty much the same, a pretty good message in any time or place.  The generous ensemble script allows room for each character to bloom.

Most of the acting is excellent, although the emotional outbursts now seem a little over the top, as are the stock characters.  The movie is really excellent except when it tries to go deep.  Of the five teens, Ally Sheedy really stands out as the best and that is partly because her character doesn’t fit into a mold and partly because she infuses it with a great deal of originality.

The best part of the film is the comedy and when it’s good, it’s really laugh out loud good and it carries the movie beyond the simple teen angst that colors the drama.  A fun movie.  At an hour and a half, the timing is perfect and it is almost impossible to stop watching once you start, always a sign that a movie is doing its job.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty-in-Pink-Duckie-AndieIt’s very rare in the realm of popular movies (outside of period pieces) that costumes play a major role, but Marilyn Vance is largely responsible for the success of the 1986 John Hughes script Pretty in Pink.  The third of the “Brat Pack” trilogy of movies, following Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, it closely resembles the first film, Sixteen Candles, and if Hughes had had his way by casting Anthony Michael Hall in the pivotal role of Duckie, it might have been even closer.

The following review contains total plot spoilers, so beware.

The film is about a high school  senior, Andie (Molly Ringwald), with a great fashion sense.  Coming from the poor side of the tracks–a fact that is bluntly stated in the opening shot when the camera actually crosses the said tracks–Andie lives with her father (Harry Dean Stanton) and struggles against the conformity in her high school.  By frequenting thrift shops, she puts together an amazingly fresh and offbeat ensemble every day.  Of course, the rich girls at her school are complete snobs and they all wear expensive (or looks expensive) clothing and they make fun of her attire.  Her best friend, since they were kids, Phil “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) is also loose from head to toe, wearing outfits as outlandish as Andie’s are stylish.  Also poor and outside the circle of the rich kids, he follows Andie around like a puppy dog and seems oblivious that she’s not interested in him romantically.

In spite of her outcast status among the girls at school, she seems to be an object of interest to some of the wealthiest boys, including Steff (James Spader), who she rejects near the beginning of the movie, and Blane (Andrew McCarthy), who seriously interests her.  She works at a record store called Trax, for a beautiful, outlandish girl in her thirties, Iona (Annie Potts) and she seeks Iona’s advice a lot.  Blane shows up at the store one day and seems to be returning Andie’s feelings.  When he asks her to go out with him, Duckie is cut to the quick, goes into a serious depression, and even backs out of his friendship with her.

Blane takes her to a party at Steff’s where the girls’ antipathy toward her is obvious and makes her totally uncomfortable.  Taking her upstairs, they blunder into a room where Steff is lolling around with the coolest girl in the school, Bunny (Kate Vernon) who makes fun of her.  They leave and go to a club that Andie hangs out at, but Duckie is there with Iona and he picks a fight with Blane, so they leave.  He asks her to the prom and she gets excited about going with him.  They commit themselves to the relationship, but Steff keeps bothering Blane about it until Blane finally backs out and embarrasses Andie in school.

Her father buys her a pretty ugly prom dress and she combines it with Iona’s old prom dress to make a new creation that is pretty cool.  She goes to the prom alone, but sees Duckie there and they go into the prom together.  Blane, who has also come alone, both apologizes and at the same time blames her for their relationship not working and tells her that he loves her.  In a reversal of character, Duckie tells her to go after Blane, then a beautiful girl, the Duckete (Kristy Swanson) gets his attention and he’s off with her.  The movie ends with Blane kissing Andie in the parking lot.

If some of this plot seems a little muddled, it’s partly because the entire ending was re-written and re-shot after preview audiences booed the ending.  In the original script, Andie ends up with Duckie.  It’s really weird and creates a lot of confusion.  For one thing, the entire film has built toward Blane’s complete screw up with Andie and her moving beyond him–and that includes his blaming her at the end for something that was entirely his own fault.  How she could go with him after that is anybody’s guess.  Part of the issue, too, is that while her friendship with Duckie is strong and deep, there isn’t any romantic attraction on her part, which negates the original ending.  In an interview on the DVD, Molly Ringwald admits that Robert Downy, Jr. almost got the role of Duckie and that she had a strong chemistry with him that would have made the original ending work, but that she herself did not like ending up with Jon Cryer because they didn’t have any kind of romantic chemistry.

So the ending is compounded by multiple mistakes and it really screws up an otherwise engaging, funny, and hip movie.

The script by John Hughes was written for Molly Ringwald and the character of Andie is fully realized, fueled by a dynamic and engaging performance by the actress.  The direction by first time director Howard Deutch is loose and fun.  He creates a great little, believable world for Hughes’ characters to inhabit.  Jon Cryer is outstanding as Duckie, always funny and charming.  Harry Dean Stanton is terrific as Andie’s father and Annie Potts gives an amazing performance as Iona–probably the best performance of her career.  James Spader is both beautiful and slimy, a combination that he has made into lifetime’s work.  And the cast is sprinkled with terrific cameos, including Andrew Dice Clay, Dweezil Zappa, and Kristy Swanson.

Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer’s costumes are wonderful.  The only other movie I can think of that made such a fresh fashion statement was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  The use of pink in all of Molly’s costumes tactfully underscores the title of the movie and every outfit is innovative and fun.  The final ingredient that makes the movie special is the well chosen soundtrack that captures that great late eighties indie rock sound.

The DVD contains many special features that enhance viewing pleasure and they go into fine detail on the problems of the ending.

Even though the movie is deeply derivative of Hughes’ earlier success Sixteen Candles, it remains fresh and charming, but the uncertainty of the filmmakers regarding the ending creates a true confusion that was simply never addressed, either by Hughes or Deutch, and that makes it difficult to enjoy.

Even so, I highly recommend this movie for an evening’s light entertainment.