It was a simple, yet somewhat radical, concept for its time: five high school students brought together one Saturday morning as part of detention, talking and finding out more about each other and themselves. And despite a largely unknown cast, 1985’s The Breakfast Club became a critical and commercial success, as well as an indelible part of pop culture.
It celebrates its 30th anniversary with special showings tonight and March 31 across the country, including several Atlanta-area theaters. Andy Meyer, one of the film’s two surviving producers, today teaches the film to his students at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah.
Looking back, The Breakfast Club started off as a low-budget independent project. President of A&M Films at the time, Meyer read a draft of National Lampoon’s Vacation and called the script’s agent to find out who wrote it. He tracked down John Hughes, then an advertising copywriter, who had the script for The Breakfast Club ready and available, with one mandate: that he direct.
Red flags went up. “I didn’t even know if he knew how to hold a camera or which end of the camera was up,” Meyer recalls.
He loved the script though and agreed to make the film. Universal Pictures eventually stepped in, gave the production more money and brought in a crew, with Meyer staying as executive producer.
What people seemed to respond to most were the stereotypes being peeled away. Although at first the five characters seemed like stereotypes — the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, the criminal — Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson made them multidimensional.
Meyer saw Sheedy and Ringwald in Austin at SXSW, where the rerelease kicked off, and all are amazed at how the film has held up.
As developed by Hughes, the king of the eighties teen comedy — Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — the movie is part of what Meyer says is a lost art of teen movies that focused on character. That it is still relevant makes him proud.
“Most of the films were like Beach Blanket Bingo, silly teenage pictures, and this was the first that intended to go a little deeper,” Meyer says. “John was the best I’ve ever seen at understandings kids and their relationship and angst towards parents. And it was funny. People related; every generation has stayed with it. People still come up to me and tell me how much the film meant to them.”
Among current filmmakers, Meyer likes the work of Cameron Crowe and feels he has come closest at replicating the late Hughes’ ability to relate to young people.
It’s doubtful whether a film as steeped in character could be made today. Meyer feels the filmmaking landscape has changed. “I think there is a problem with the movies being made today, unless they are independent films,” he says. “They are being made for the global marketplace, and you see less dialogue and more action. You need less character work.”
In his screen-writing class, Meyer — who also produced the shot-in-Georgia Fried Green Tomatoes — lauds the script’s economy. By the time the five characters are inside the library, audiences know them.
When the film was released, Nelson’s rebel character seemed to be the favorite, the one most identified with, Meyer recalls. Sentiments may have shifted, however. “I think if you asked people today, though, it might be Anthony Michael Hall’s nerd.”