The movies of the 1980s had their own flavor, too, and that is what I want to get at. What is the DEFINITIVE 1980s movie? That might be an impossible question to answer, but over the next couple weeks I will take a look at some key contenders to the title. But first, as always, some criteria to narrow the search.
1. There must be a 1980s song attached that defines it the movie when you see it. In other words, when you now hear this song, you must think of the movie before anything else.
2. I think the theme of “Triumph of the Underdog” must be present somewhere in the movie. This theme was almost as common as the overuse of the montage in 1980s movie.
3. Must contain a montage sequence.
4. The movie must have introduced us to an actor in a star-making performance. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is the first movie the actor made, just their “star-making” performance
Today’s Contender: The Breakfast Club
In the hunt for the definitive 80’s movie, it was only a matter of time before I delved into the oeuvre of the late John Hughes. Remembered now as nothing less than THE MOST IMPORTANT chronicler of teen angst in the last century, Hughes actually had a fairly small output, at least directorially. But what he DID release gives credence to some of the hyperbole that is directed his way.
He directed more than just “teen” movies- for instance, She’s Having a Baby, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Curly Sue), but honestly, these aren’t the flicks he’ll be remembered for. No, it’ll be Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that will be the movies that everyone instantly associates with him. Or what I think is the best candidate for Definitive 80s Movie- The Breakfast Club. (Note- Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful are disqualified in this entry due to the fact that they were only written, not directed, by Hughes. That is not to say that either of these movies shouldn’t be revisited later as contenders, although I’ll tell you, they won’t be. Some Kind of Wonderful doesn’t really have the following, and I fucking hate Pretty in Pink, with the exception of James Spader’s performance).
Why does The Breakfast Club get the nod? Well, it all comes down to the criteria I laid out for this enterprise, and the Club is the only one of those movies that fits all four. Sixteen Candles? Didn’t have an 80’s song that is associated with it (Despite my wife’s insistence that “If You Were Here” by the Thompson Twins should fit the bill). Also, I don’t think Candles has a montage sequence. Bueller has one of those (the trip to the Art Museum), but I’m not sure you can call “Oh Yeah” by Yello the song that is associated only with Bueller (especially since that song is now owned, in my opinion, by Duff Man on The Simpsons).
No, it is The Breakfast Club that hits all the sweet spots, and you know what? I think it’s a great choice- it may be the prototype of whatever it is we call “The John Hughes Movie.” But is it truly the Definitive 80s Movie?
It definitely has The Song. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds is so tied to The Breakfast Club that is difficult to hear it ending without visualizing a quote from David Bowie’s “Changes” shattering to reveal Shermer High School on a cold Saturday morning. What is with the parentheses in the song title, though? Does anyone refer to it as simply “Don’t You”? Maybe Simple Minds thought that by inserting the parentheses, the song would be classed up? I’ve heard that the band hates the song, which is a shame since it is far and away their best song. I’m not sure there is a lot of demand for anything else in their catalog (with the possible exception of “Alive and Kicking”, but even that would a distant second, right?). In any case, throw on “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and you will instantly feel like a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.
Triumph of the Underdog theme? Oh yeah- the whole movie is about how each of these kids are disaffected in some way, be it how Andrew (Emilio Estevez) can’t connect with his dad, to how Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) uh… can’t connect with his parents. In fact, every single one of them feels put upon by the expectations and demands placed upon them by their parents, and by the de facto “parent” in the movie, Mr. Vernon (played by that great 80s dick, Paul Gleason). As the movie progresses, and each of these broken teens realize that they are stronger in their own identities than they ever thought, and it only took a Saturday detention to realize it. By the end, when Vernon is reading Brian’s letter and Bender (Judd Nelson) is raising his fist defiantly to the heavens, we know that the underdogs have indeed triumphed.
The montages in this movie never really worked for me, but they are fairly prominent, so let’s discuss. Basically, the montages exist to throw a few more songs onto the soundtrack and have the five teens dance to them. I’m not sure how well a song like “We Are Not Alone” is going to be remembered, but most people do remember the little three-person shuffle that accompanied it in the montage. And I’m sure Estevez is still a little embarrassed by the scene when he screams so voraciously after “stoned-dancing” through the library, that it literally shatters glass.
By the time The Breakfast Club had come out, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall were already stars from Sixteen Candles, and Emilio Estevez had already made his name in movies like The Outsiders. The two relative newcomers were Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson, and while Sheedy did just fine for herself in The Breakfast Club, Judd Nelson became the breakout star. In fact, I would say his character, John Bender, is the true centerpiece of the whole thing. Hughes gave him all the best lines AND he gets the girl at the end. True, Estevez also gets a girl (Sheedy), but at the time it felt like he was getting the Second Place Ribbon, right? And Nelson nailed that part, too. He was funny, you believed he’d been in detention forever, and he rocked the “Get Me A Turkey Pot Pie” scene with aplomb. It’s a shame that he never really capitalized on this part (he was never this good again), but it can’t be said that The Breakfast Club was not a star-making performance for Judd Nelson.
So what do you think? Is The Breakfast Club the Definitive 80s Movie?