What About “The Breakfast Club”?

The only time I went to detention was an educational visit.  Senior year, tech week of Our Town, I somehow got the brilliant idea that I should show up at the dress rehearsal smoking a pipe as the Stage Manager. One of the cast members brought in her father’s spare pipe with some tobacco. The teacher in charge of after-school detention was known for smoking a pipe, so I sought him out and asked him for tips. He showed me how to load and light a pipe, told me to take my time, and assured me that watching the smoke rise and fill the room was part of the pleasure of smoking. Some of the kids in the detention room at the time were there because they were caught smoking on campus, so they weren’t very happy. The principal had a staff member call my father to ask him whether I had permission to smoke in the play; I hadn’t briefed him beforehand, but he said yes. The girl who loaned me her father’s pipe seemed to like the smell on my clothes; she would sometimes share my stool or sit on my lap between scenes. (And for the record, I didn’t inhale.)

That’s about as rebellious as I got in high school.

The Breakfast Club is not one of my favorite movies. I don’t mean that there’s any part of it I actively dislike, it’s just not something I think about. Lately Carolyn expressed some interest in trying out for a local production of the play, in part because she really likes 80s culture, but it ended up not fitting into her schedule. But I was impressed by former teen actress Molly Ringwald’s essay reflecting on “The Breakfast Club” in the era of #MeToo. Some of the messages, that the “basket case” isn’t worthy of the jock’s attention until she redoes her appearance, and that the “criminal” seems to think himself entitled to the sexuality of the “princess,” bothered me at the time (perhaps because the “brain,” with whom I identified most, ended up alone). And while my own teenage years were far from perfect, and I had some pretty bleak moments in middle school, I really enjoyed my time in high school, feeling fulfilled intellectually and creatively, with a decent part-time job, good grades, plenty of friends, supportive family.

I made three movies with John Hughes; when they were released, they made enough of a cultural impact to land me on the cover of Time magazine and to get Hughes hailed as a genius. His critical reputation has only grown since he died, in 2009, at the age of fifty-nine. Hughes’s films play constantly on television and are even taught in schools. There is still so much that I love in them, but lately I have felt the need to examine the role that these movies have played in our cultural life: where they came from, and what they might mean now. When my daughter proposed watching “The Breakfast Club” together, I had hesitated, not knowing how she would react: if she would understand the film or if she would even like it. I worried that she would find aspects of it troubling, but I hadn’t anticipated that it would ultimately be most troubling to me. -Molly Ringwald, New Yorker

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