Sam Strange Remembers: THE BREAKFAST CLUB

Hollywood legend Sam Strange recalls the time he made a trilogy of films about the lives of people in the 80s.

It has come to my attention lately that I once directed a movie called The Breakfast Club and that the film represents a kind of communal artifact of instant bonding for children of the 1980’s. Upon hearing this news, I was a little confused because, of all the meals, breakfast has always rubbed me the wrong way. It turns out the film is not about breakfast at all. In fact, the only food eaten is lunch, which I’m sort of more okay with as far as meals go.

The Breakfast Club is all about these five high school kids who have to do an all-day detention together on a Saturday. By the end of the film, everyone’s cried at least once, and they’ve all learn to love each other despite their conflicting cliches. It sort of argues against that idea that humans left alone will revert to violent savages by averring that humans left alone will instead revert into white Tyler Perry characters.

Roll Call!

First there’s The Jock, played by Horatio Gonzalez. The Jock is in detention because he taped some dude’s butt cheeks together. While that sounds utterly preposterous, we find later that he only did it because his abusive father drives him relentlessly to tape people’s butt cheeks together. Apparently, that’s how his father’s football team won games, and he’ll be damned if his son is the one to let the tradition die on the vine. For lunch he eats two lunches.

Next there’s The Princess, played by Molly Ringwald. The Princess is that girl with all the money and all the friends, and you look at pictures of her ten years later and realize she was ugly as shit. She’s in detention for skipping class so she could go shopping. Apparently, the new Atari launched on a Tuesday, and she simply couldn’t let it go by. Her parents are divorced and they both abuse her by taking turns blaming her for their strife. For lunch she eats 1980’s sushi, which couldn’t have been great.

After that we have The Nerd, played by Michael C. Hall. The Nerd writes the letter/narration that bookends the film. In it, he refers to himself as The Brain, but c’mon. You’re the only Breakfast Clubber who actually does the detention assignment. You’re the only Breakfast Clubber who does not get laid. Feel free to correct me, PoinDexter, but all my math points to nerd. The Nerd’s parents constantly abuse him by pushing him to be a bigger nerd. Like many an Asian kid, The Nerd is in detention because he tried to kill himself with a flare gun. For lunch, The Nerd eats a mathematically portioned food pyramid.

Next we have The Basket Case, played by Ally Sheety. The Basket Case is a bit of an enigma. No one knows who she is or why she’s in all-day detention. We later find out that she’s just there for fun. Also, her parents abuse her by ignoring her. No wonder, she smells like a jar of tobacco spit and eats her boogers. For lunch, she eats boogers. And her hand.

And finally we have Bender Bending Rodriguez, The Criminal, played by Judd Hirsch. Bender’s your classic rebel type, running headfirst toward a life behind bars. He swears, smokes pot, drinks alcohol, likes sex, and lashes out violently when his ultra-thin skin gets a little bruised. He also wears at least five different shirts, and when he walks his various ornamental chains jingle so he sounds like Santa Clause. His parents abuse him in the more traditional sense. For lunch he eats paint thinner, then lights his burps on fire.

There’s also the teacher who has to watch over them, a retired Deputy Police Chief named Dwayne T. Robinson. Robinson is sort of at a station higher than his talent warrants, but he only knows that secretly. This makes him act like a real hardass, especially toward Bender. For lunch he eats Bender’s shorts.

So all the ingredients for a great stage play are gathered. The only thing missing is plot. By definition, an all-day detention doesn’t offer much in the way of action. So instead of telling a traditional story, The Breakfast Club offers dialog set pieces, almost all of them instigated by The Criminal.

Bender acts like he hates everyone and doesn’t give a shit, but if not for him, none of these kids would talk to each other at all. By needling everyone’s insecurities, Bender opens an ever-widening discourse among the five students that allows them to ultimately bond. He’s kind of like the white Madea.

The big thing that makes them bond is marijuana. Sometime after lunch, Bender gets all the kids to sneak through the halls for some drugs stored in his locker. The drug has a strange effect on them. It makes The Princess put make up on using only her breasts. It makes The Nerd suddenly very funny. It make the Jock dance, though his dancing is actually just a bunch of gay gymnastics. It doesn’t do much to The Basket Case because she doesn’t partake. Why would someone on heroin want to fuck around with weed?

But more than that, it makes The Breakfast Club sit in a circle and tell each other all the ways their parents abuse them. This leads to Bender showing off all his scars and doing a lively one-act play for their benefit. One-act plays were invented to make people uncomfortable, and Bender’s succeeds admirably. The whole thing changes The Princess’ perspective on Bender, and she starts getting a Rebel-crush.

Next The Basket Case empties her purse in front of everyone to prove how ready she is to run away from home. The Jock does not fail to notice condoms, handcuffs, and lube hiding among the wadded up tissues and hotel brochures. The whole thing changes his perspective on The Basket Case, and he starts getting a potential Sex Freak-crush.

The Nerd doesn’t notice any of this because he’s The Nerd, not The Brain.

They have good times, too. Like when they whistle songs together. Or when they thwart and belittle Dwayne T. Robinson together. Or when they all realize that The Jock taped their butt cheeks together.

In the end, Bender and The Princess sneak off to have sex. The Basket Case realizes she wants to get freaky with The Jock, but first she has to get less freaky with herself, so she pulls a pink dress out of her purse and steals a bunch of The Princess’ make up. She doesn’t know how to apply it at first, and it takes three or four tries before The Jock finally accepts her as pretty enough. While all this sex is going on, The Nerd is rebelliously working on his defiant assignment.

Pretty soon it’s four o’clock and everyone has to go home. This leaves a lot of lingering questions I thought would go unanswered. But then I consulted my memoir and realized I actually made a whole Breakfast Club trilogy.

The Lunch Club is all about the group after they graduate from college. The Nerd is still a nerd, only now he’s a bit more artistic. He works at a newspaper writing obituaries, while pondering the meaning of life. It’s also revealed that he’s gay. He says he’s not, but he is.

The Basket Case is now a really nice girl who spends all her time helping charities. Her boyfriend, The Jock, is no longer a jock at all. Instead, he’s trying to reinvent himself as a saxophone player.

The Princess is now a coke addicted party girl. Her boyfriend, The Criminal, is shockingly a lawyer, though that shock is ameliorated somewhat when it’s revealed that he wants to work for the Republican party.

The whole film takes place during a blackout at the gang’s favorite bar, St. Elmo’s Bar. For two hours, everyone argues with each other, examines how far they’ve come/how far they’ve fallen, get high, re-calibrate their sexual pairings, and then go home.

The Dinner Club takes place with the gang in their late 30’s. The Criminal has become a loose cannon again but realizes the emptiness of such gestures next to his part in destroying healthcare for all. He kills himself before the film begins, and the film itself takes place at his funeral, where a snowstorm keeps the group locked inside a church for two hours.

The Jock and The Princess are now married. She’s all cleaned up, but very bitter about the path she’s chosen. The Jock gave up his saxophone dreams and sank them in running a tennis shoe company. At first she loved him for his new rebellious streak. This tennis shoe horse shit was not in the cards.

The Nerd has only grown more nerdy. By this time, he’s finally nerdy enough to be played by Jeff Goldblum. He’s a writer for “People Magazine” or, as the rest of us call it, Omni Magazine.

The Basket Case has become a lonely cat lady. Her childbearing days are nearing an end, so she’s suddenly desperate to pro-create. Since no real men will touch her, she turns to her old boyfriend, The Jock, to do the job. He refuses. She then turns to The Nerd. He refuses as well because he’s too scared. Ultimately, she gets one out of The Jock and The Princess’ sons (not sure which one; this whole subplot gets fleshed out more in The Breakfast Club: The Next Generation).

At the snowed-in funeral, everyone argues with each other, examines how far they’ve fallen, get high, and listen to a bunch of motown hits because it’s the only music they can find. No one has sex with anyone, except for The Criminal’s grieving twenty-year old girlfriend (Meg Tilly) who has sex with everyone.

The whole saga reminds me of when I made the Up series, a bunch of documentaries examining a bunch of happy, wide-eyed children as they slowly become cynical, sad old people. I think there’s a lesson to be learned here, and that lesson is to kill yourself.

(three stars)