Baby Boomer though he is, Mr. Improbable very quickly figured out exactly how upset I was at the unexpected news of John Hughes’s death, and knew that the right answer when I peeked my tear-streaked face into the room where he was reading and said, “Can we rent ‘The Breakfast Club’ tonight” was “Good idea!”
I was worried that he wouldn’t like it. I was worried that I wouldn’t like it. I hadn’t seen it since it came out in 1985, my senior year, and, well, when a movie like that comes out in your senior year, you can hardly be objective at the time, can you? And we have had our generational differences, in terms of humor and movies before. (All right, I’ll tell you, but I don’t care what you say, he’s a wonderful husband and I’m not leaving him: Mr. Improbable does not think “Spinal Tap” is funny. I know, I know. I don’t get it either.)
About five minutes in, he was nodding his head and saying, “This isn’t so different from when I was in school” and when they all started whistling the theme from “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” he burst out laughing and said, “This is a good movie!”
I was so relieved.
A few things that struck me, on what is almost the film’s 25th anniversary:
Anthony Michael Hall has a gun in his locker and they give him Saturday detention?! Wow. How pre-Columbine. That, I think, more than anything, dates the film. (And the similar issues about lack of security, smoke alarms, etc. in the school.)
I don’t think Judd Nelson’s character would be played quite as homophobic today. Would an angry, abused, working-class kid like John Bender probably be homophobic, assuming he weren’t gay himself? Probably. But John Bender is the least real of all the characters. He’s a wish-fulfillment archetype, the bad boy with the sensitive insides and remarkable verbal dexterity. The character everyone wants to either be or do. And I don’t think, if you were making such a perfect sensitive criminal today, that you’d make him a verbal gay-basher. It’s nice to think we’ve made some progress.
There would, however, probably be just as much slut-shaming and rape innuendos if the movie were made today. Along with a whiny rant from the Anthony Michael Hall character about how “nice guys” can’t get a date. I wonder if we’ve made quite as much progress in that regard. (Here‘s a good take on John Hughes’s sexual and class politics.)
Speaking of Anthony Michael Hall, about halfway through the movie, Mr. Improbable said, “He’s Milo.” He is so right. You don’t have to know Milo personally to get this: just imagine the sneaky, sideways moves of a submissive but mistrustful dog. Some actors do get inspiration from animals’ body language, and I wonder if Mr. Hall figured out some of his physical work from watching a dog like Milo, the kind of dog who will rarely fight for his rights but will always look out for his interests. In the dog park, keeping an eye out for the bigger dogs, or trying to abscond with a bit of forbidden food. (I mentioned this to a friend of mine who knows and loves Milo well, and she snorted and replied tartly, “Well, that’s what high school is–a big, badly supervised dog park.”)
I had the hugest crush on Judd Nelson as John Bender in high school–hey, there’s no shame in admitting that–but he really did have the weirdest face ever at that age. There was absolutely nothing about him that looked like a young man. All of his features were either those of a pretty girl, or an old Jewish zayde. But on him, it looked good.
I recall hating the Emilio Estevez/Ally Sheedy hookup when I was a teenager, but it works for me now: the compulsive conformist and the compulsive non-conformist, neither acting out of any sense of authenticity, neither making real choices. Maybe they’ll give each other strength. She needs the confidence to know she can play by the rules of “normal” when she chooses. He needs the confidence to know he doesn’t have to unless he wants to. Plus, this bit:
Allison: He can’t think for himself.
Andrew: She’s right.
… is a masterpiece of timing and brevity. They don’t seem like strangers in that moment, but like a long-married couple that has the comedy routines–and a deep awareness of how the relationship itself transcends those routines–down to an art and science.
I suspect my own high school neuroses played into my underestimation of both the character of Andrew and the superb job by Emilio Estevez. (Ya think?) Wow, he was good. Has Mr. Estevez done anything comparable since then? A look at IMDB doesn’t make me optimistic (though it reminds me I do need to rent “Repo Man.”) What happened?
Oh, and another “times have changed” moment–Andrew’s shamed, straightforward acknowledgement that taping another, very hairy, boy’s butt together is torture, when our government and major newspapers seem to have a difficult time being similarly honest about waterboarding.
And speaking of IMDB–this may be corrected by the time the post goes up, but when I wrote this they had listed Judd Nelson as Andrew and Emilio Estevez as John. Which was exactly the same mistake I’d made when I first saw it. Because, you know, John was all swarthy and stuff. But 1) I didn’t exactly grow up in the kind of hotbed of diversity that would lead me to grasp that people with Latino names may also sport blond hair, and 2) the damn movie’s been out for 25 years! What’s your excuse, IMDB?
Mr. Improbable kept mentioning that he wanted the principal to be more of a real character, and I kept disagreeing, because I’d forgotten the scene between the principal and the janitor. “Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me.” “I wouldn’t count on it.” Wow. Yes, maybe the adults should have gotten a little more screen time.
Or maybe I just think that because I am one now.