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'The Breakfast Club' At 30: '80s Classic Still Relatable Today


ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL: (As Brian Johnson) You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.


It's been 30 years since the John Hughes film "The Breakfast Club" sent five high school students to all-day attention, where they wrote those words about themselves. And this weekend, the film is back in theaters for an anniversary screening. Here to remember "The Breakfast Club" with us is Linda Holmes, host of NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See. Linda, welcome to the program.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: So, Linda, this was part of a whole series of films about high school that John Hughes wrote and directed, including "Sixteen Candles" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." But what is it about this one, "The Breakfast Club," that's lasted?

HOLMES: I think it's partly that this is a film that concerns itself a lot with that taxonomy of high school, that idea of brains and princesses and rebels. But then it goes in and kind of complicates all of those ideas. It's also a film that is all about conversation. And what happens over the course of this film is they're all locked in the library together, and the more they talk to each other, the more they discover these sort of unexpected ways in which their social groups and their lives are interacting in ways that they hadn't necessarily thought of.

CORNISH: And one example of that is this scene that we're going to play here between Emilio Estevez, who plays the kind of jock, popular guy, and Anthony Michael Hall, who plays a less-popular guy, talking about bullying.


EMILIO ESTEVEZ: (As Andrew Clark) Do you guys know what - what I did to get in here? I taped Larry Lester's buns together.

HALL: (As Brian Johnson) That was you?

ESTEVEZ: (As Andrew Clark) Yeah, you know him?

HALL: (As Brian Johnson) Yeah, I know him.

HOLMES: There's a lot of pain in that moment where both Emilio Estevez, who did the bullying, and Anthony Michael Hall, who's the friend of the kid who's been bullied, are recognizing that they've been talking to each other throughout the day, and yet they are living in different worlds of high school. On the one hand, it's this connection, and on the other hand, you can tell how Anthony Michael Hall's character doesn't know how to react to that information that this guy that he's gotten to be friendly with over the course of the day - oh, you're the one who tormented my friend. That's a tough moment for that character.

CORNISH: You know, Linda, everyone can be sorted into a type -right? - when we think back to high school or middle school. Is there a character who resonates the most for you?

HOLMES: If there's something that's missing from "The Breakfast Club," it would be the artsy kid, the drama club or writer kid. And that's who I would've been. But I think, absent that, I probably relate the most to Allison, who's the Ally Sheedy character, who's sort of the one they call the basket case. And she - she has a lot of ways of hiding herself from people, which I think a lot of us had in high school.

CORNISH: I think one scene that struck me from that actually is between Ally Sheedy, this character, and Emilio Estevez, because they're comparing notes basically on their home lives and this comes out.


ESTEVEZ: (As Andrew Clark) So what's wrong? What is it? Is it bad? Real bad? Parents?

ALLY SHEEDY: (As Allison Reynolds)Yeah.

ESTEVEZ: (As Andrew Clark) What do they do to you?

SHEEDY: (As Allison Reynolds) They ignore me.

HOLMES: You have that moment where you think, when a kid says it's about their parents and it's going to be something really painful, you expect something bigger than they ignore me, that that's what her pain comes from, is they don't pay any attention to her. It's - and so many of the other kids have these bigger interactions with their parents. They yell at me. They pick on me. They don't want me to be who I am. They want me to be someone else. And she just says, they just don't see me at all.

CORNISH: Talk more about how parents and adults are portrayed generally, because that's one aspect of the film that I do see echoed today in many other places where a lot of the adults are, like, cruel or mean or just not there.

HOLMES: Yeah, it really depends. John Hughes definitely made films where the parents are more sympathetic. In this film, the parents are portrayed pretty negatively. But the principal and the janitor have conversations with each other and with the kids in which the janitor character in particular is given a certain amount of wisdom about putting the kids' lives in perspective. And the principal, although he is certainly made out to be a doofus in a lot of ways, ultimately you do get an explanation that he's mostly lost and doesn't understand what's happening to the world and what's happening to kids and feels like they're disrespectful. And I wouldn't call it a sympathetic portrayal, but it is a portrayal that grows in depth over the course of the film.

CORNISH: The biggest question with a film like this, after three decades, is the simplest one. How does it hold up?

HOLMES: I think some of the ideas in this film hold up pretty well as far as the need that kids have to try to connect to kids who are like them and aren't like them and the curiosity they have about those people. There are certainly elements of the film that do not hold up very well. I think if you look at that Judd Nelson character from the point of view of an adult, you see a person who is not as romantic as Molly Ringwald treats him as being. And I think the gender politics of the film are pretty retrograde. There is that indication that Ally Sheedy needs a makeover. And she changes a lot from the application of a little eyeliner.

CORNISH: Right, everything gets better if you would just (laughter) use lip gloss.

HOLMES: If you would just change everything - and change everything about yourself. But, you know, a lot those ideas about, everyone is more than the type that they seem to be, that's an eternal theme.

CORNISH: Linda Holmes, thank you so much for talking with us.

HOLMES: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: That's Linda Holmes, host of NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.