Saturday, January 14, 2012

Don't you forget about me

My brother and sister-in-law sent us an Amazon Gift Card for Christmas, and my wife and I have spent the last couple of weeks deliberating over what to spend it on. By deliberating, of course, I mean, both of us said we'd think about it, until we finally sat down, took a look at a couple options, and made some snap decisions. Among those decisions: The Breakfast Club, on Blu-Ray.

I love John Hughes movies. Hughes was a writer who knew his characters. He knew what each would say in a given situation, based on who they were, how they grew up, and what they wanted. He built them back stories, and used those stories to create rich, funny, and often insightful dialogue.

The Breakfast Club is a wonderful case in point. Sure, it got heavy-handed at times; occasionally melodramatic. But it was high school. This was, in my mind, the genius of this film in particular. The movie was about teenagers and, importantly, told from their points of view. So yes, some things that we as adults don't necessarily find important were, in the scope of the film, possibly the most vital things in the world. And, too, it raises an interesting question: why aren't some of these things more important as adults? In some cases, it is precisely because they were so important to our teenage selves. Cultural and personal identity. Friendship. Judgement. Healthy adults don't have to think about these things, because we worked them out while we were young. On the other hand, there are adults who never did answer these questions, and have simply -- and tragically -- forgotten why they were so necessary to ask.

Hughes also did something too few writers did when it came to teenagers: he asked about life at home, and what they felt about it. And then, in spite of the tragedies great and small evident in each of these kids' lives, he does something even harder for a writer: refuses to solve them. Instead, he looks at the questions, offers no easy answers, but allows his characters to become comfortable with them. It becomes okay to ask. In this, The Breakfast Club almost feels like a fantasy for teenagers: to be given permission from your peers to ask questions, and to cross-mingle outside your comfort zone. 

The narrative is tied together by the "essay" assigned by Mr. Vernon: to answer the question, "who do you think you are." The beauty is, in spite of himself and entirely by accident, he helps them discover exactly that.  And just as importantly, they discover something about each other as well. They don't leave the school with their lives changed. They still go home to the messes they left, but they go armed with a fresh view of their identities and perhaps a bit of understanding.