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Don’t You Forget About Me: ‘Breakfast Club’ at 30

John Green, Diablo Cody, the creators of ‘Gossip Girl’ and more weigh in on a teen-movie classic

Breakfast Club

Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Michael Hall

Universal

A brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal walk into a school library….

Within the first 60 seconds of The Breakfast Club, John Hughes managed to successfully introduce the five high school archetypes he would spend the next hour and a half dismantling, or at least redefining. Upon its release 30 years ago, it would have been easy to dismiss it as just another teen comedy about stock adolescent problems, i.e. does he like me, or does he like me like me? And while that exact question may have been a central plot point in Hughes' Sixteen Candles, which hit theaters less than a year before TBC, the late, great, Chicago-loving auteur decided to use this follow-up to turn the genre on its head.

Set more like a stage play — "It's like 12 Angry Men," Gossip Girl co-creator Stephanie Savage exclaims — the film sees a quintet of high schoolers who, for various reasons, are forced to spend a Saturday morning detention in each other's company. Instead, they end up dancing on tabletops, holding an impromptu group therapy session and altering the social hierarchy of Shermer High — Bender the burnout (Judd Nelson) gets Claire the prom queen (Molly Ringwald), school weirdo Allison (Ally Sheedy) hooks up with head jock Andrew (Emilio Estevez), and the lovable academic overachiever Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) realizes that he's not so different after all. (Should you need a refresher, a new Blu-Ray edition of the film hits shelves on March 10th; it's also getting a two-nights-only theatrical re-release on March 26th and 31st.)

Whether or not these newfound friendships, romances, and bromances lasted through Monday's homeroom is unknown. But what is for certain is that virtually every creator and consumer of adolescent-focused entertainment in the three decades since the film's debut owes a huge debt of gratitude to Hughes for turning teenagers into young adults. Just ask Y.A. novelist phenomenon — and one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in 2014 — John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska); Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult); actor-comedian Paul Scheer (The League); and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who have collectively produced and/or created some of the most popular teen series of the past decade (The O.C., Gossip Girl). They aren't exactly the Breakfast Club redux — more like two brains, two basket cases and a princess — but each one of them spoke with us about the movie's enduring impact.

John Green

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 01: John Green attends "Meet The Filmmakers" at Apple Store Soho on June 1, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)

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John Green, Author (‘The Fault in Our Stars’)

I first saw The Breakfast Club when I was 10 or 11 years old. And it's a funny thing: I think to teenagers of that era it was probably giving form and expression to something they knew but didn't necessarily have the vocabulary for. But to me — a kid who wasn't a teenager yet — it gave me a set of expectations.

[I connected] to Brian Johnson, the nerd finally being accepted and understood, but also to Allison Reynolds. I had a lot of anxiety around my physical appearance, and seeing her shake her dandruff out was incredibly empowering to me. But one of the problems [in] watching it when you're 10 years old is that you don't necessarily come away with the lesson that stereotypes are over-simplifications or that all human beings contain a multitude of complexities. Instead, it's: "Oh, there are five types of teenagers. I am on path to become one of them, but I should aspire to be the one who gets Molly Ringwald." By the time I saw the movie again in high school, I remember understanding the idea that people will surprise you when you take the time to listen to them.

I love work that takes teenagers seriously and acknowledges their intelligence and interest in the big questions. Here's a movie about a group of kids sitting in a circle talking about the meaning of life and our responsibilities to each other and ourselves. Imagine being in a Hollywood pitch meeting and saying: "I want to make a movie where five kids sit in a circle and talk about what is really important." It's unimaginable! Part of the success of the movie is that it was totally unafraid to do that.

I try to be cautious not to assign too much power or influence to any one particular work of art because I think individuals are usually reflective of larger movements. But I think John Hughes was tremendously important in helping all of us to understand that teenagers were not big children and that adolescence is separate from childhood. I am sure he saw what he was doing partly as holding a mirror up to adolescent reality as he saw it, but along the way he defined it as well. To be a teenager is to be in this world between innocence and experience. When you're a kid, you have the protection — it come from your parents, as well as your imagination. And then as an adult, you have the protections of the entire social order being oriented around you and you have more experience with which to deal with problems. But the crazy thing about being a teenager is that you have neither of those protections: You are raw and exposed in wonderful and terrifying ways, and The Breakfast Club reflects that beautifully.

Diablo Cody

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 26: Producer / Director Diablo Cody attends the screening of "Life Itself" at the ArcLight Cinemas on June 26, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

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Diablo Cody, Filmmaker and Screenwriter (‘Juno’)

The first time I saw it — I think I was eight — I was definitely too young to comprehend any of its themes. I'm sure a lot of the content was inappropriate. So my original takeaway was that Molly Ringwald was pretty, and I was already feeling some kind of primal attraction to Judd Nelson versus Emilio Estevez. I actually hadn't dealt with any clique warfare myself at that point, but I was already beginning to realize that kids put themselves and their peers into boxes. You are either one thing or the other. And I'm sure I felt like an Allison even then.

Hughes' movies were my film school. As crazy as it sounds, The Breakfast Club is the first thing that I ever wrote about online. Ever. My brother got a dial-up modem a long time ago and we got on one of those like bulletin board-type chatrooms — very crude — and I just started asking people about it. And they told me to go away, because I didn't understand chatroom etiquette at the time. I was interrupting the conversation between the other hardcore geeks on their dial-up modems. It was my first time being flamed. [Laughs] But it's funny to me that my very first impulse was to talk about that movie. More than influencing me as a filmmaker, it influenced me as a person.

The message John Hughes was trying to convey, at least as I perceive it, is that people do not listen to teenagers. They don't think about how they felt at that age when they're considering the choices that teens make. The movie opens with that David Bowie quote: "And these children that you spit on" and so forth. To me that completely establishes the tone — this idea that, as Allison says, "When you grow up, your heart dies." Teenagers feel things so acutely, and it's easy to forget that when you're an adult. Hughes just changed the POV. Suddenly we're not seeing teenagers from a grown-up's perspective; we were seeing them from their own perspective. It feels like a movie made by a teenager.

Josh Schwartz

HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 25: Josh Schwartz attends the 'Fun Size' Los Angeles Premiere held at Paramount Studios on October 25, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)

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Josh Schwartz, TV Writer and Producer (‘Gossip Girl,’ ‘The O.C.’)

I was not allowed to see The Breakfast Club when it first came out in theaters because it was rated R. But I remember seeing it when I was in junior high school on the great invention known as the VCR. I was really struck by the audacity that we were going to be dropped into this movie about kids being locked in a room for two hours and it was going to be compelling enough to hold our attention. But the biggest thing I really remember is that John Hughes really treated teenagers like adults. I feel like those characters and actors are older at 17 than I am now.

What's amazing about the movie is that it both presented the high school archetypes that would endure forever in all high school movies, TV shows, and what have you afterwards and deconstructed them at the same time. So by the end of the movie you know nobody is what they seem. You realize that Bender is emotional; he's vulnerable and not as cool as he appears. Claire is not the perfect girl that you know. And Brian Johnson, man. Everyone is Brian Johnson at that age.

In some ways, The Breakfast Club is a perfect time capsule of that moment. But in other ways, with everything you read about Internet bullying, it is amazing to think about if you were to try to make the movie today. It would probably be a story of five kids who all had their phones taken away from them for an hour and a half and a forced to have their first conversation with a new person. I'm not suggesting that somebody should try to remake it; that would be completely wrong. But even though the language, the music, and the technology changes, the issues of alienation and loneliness, conformity and heartbreak — all that stuff is timeless.

John Hughes definitely invented Y.A. culture. And I think he made the teen movie genre, the Y.A. genre, something to be taken seriously. Certainly for anybody who tells or is drawn to stories about young adults and believes that those stories should be taken seriously, he is indelible. He is Page One. In the shows that we have done we've presented characters that seemed initially like archetypes and hopefully over the course of the episodes we were able to get to some of those truths that he Hughes so beautifully in 90 minutes. He created the standard that it is not just enough to traffic in the stereotype. You have to go deeper.

Stephanie Savage

HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 25:Producer Stephanie Savage arrives at the Premiere of Paramount Pictures' "Fun Size" at Paramount Theater on the Paramount Studios lot on October 25, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Stephanie Savage, TV Writer and Producer (‘Gossip Girl,’ ‘The O.C.’)

I was too young to see Fast Times At Ridgemont High in the theater, and I remember feeling like the way people were talking about The Breakfast Club in the same tone as Fast Times. It was like: Is this movie really for us? For teenagers? And from the second the movie opened it just felt so clear that it was from the point of view of the adolescents in the audience.

I wasn't a Claire in terms of coming from a prosperous background. I don't think I had ever eaten sushi at that point. [Laughs] But in terms of someone who felt like there was a lot of pressure on her to achieve and who wanted to be perceived in a certain way, I definitely was a Claire. I think a lot of girls have some Allison in them, in terms of like their own weirdness. And I actually have a lot of Brian in me, too. I knew that for me the only way into a bigger world was going to be through school and having good grades, so that was always really important to me.

I connected to its tribal portrait of high school — the kind of divided war zone it was — and that universal message that all kids are going through this. No matter what their background is, how they dress, or what music they like, they are going through similar struggles. As Cherry Valance said in The Outsiders: "Things are rough all over."

I think that there was a sort of a literary tradition of seeing the world from the teenage point of view, with S.E. Hinton's books in the Sixties and Seventies that were made into movies in the 1980s. But it's with John Hughes that you see that in contemporary cinema for the first time. He wasn't making movies like Grease, where it's a type of fairytale that is set in high school. The empathy and understanding that he shows for his characters in The Breakfast Club was the game-changer in terms of feeling like you could create real teenage characters that were almost 100 percent interacting with each other. It wasn't a story about their parents. It was completely set in this world where high school could be everything.

Paul Scheer

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: Actor Paul Scheer attends The League press room at 2014 New York Comic Con - Day 3 at Jacob Javitz Center on October 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)

Daniel Zuchnik/Getty

Paul Scheer, Comedian/Actor (‘The League’)

When you watch the movie in high school, you feel like: "This is me! This is my voice. These are real people." But it's funny looking back on it and realizing that this was the Brat Pack era. Those were the most attractive people of all-time playing nerds and jocks — it's not like a Harmony Korine film.

What makes the movie so good is that there's a little bit of yourself in every one of those characters. You can look at each one of them and say, "Well that's kind of me" — which is the cool thing about it. I don't have a sad high school experience, nor do I have the "I was a total all-star!" experience. So my character wasn't necessarily super represented, yet I felt a kinship with all of them. I'll take the easy route and say that I related most to Allison. 

I guarantee you that if changed all the names and gave this script to somebody right now, no one would make a move on this movie. They would over-note it. It would be like: "They need to get together at the end. And we need to get them out of the library more. Maybe they escape the school and then they have to race to get back in time for the third act. Also, we need to have a huge celebrity cameo for the principal. And we should definitely have a karaoke scene in there. But I love the idea that they're in detention. Let's keep that. We'll get rid of everything else, but let's keep that!" All of those bad instincts would kick in now and the script would be a mess. It would just become a wasteland of shit.

At the end of The Breakfast Club, I don't feel like these people are going to hang out now. I don't think that they're going to be best friends. And that's what's so cool about John Hughes. He can make a movie like that where they're not all going to be friends, but they had this moment where they connected. That was all you needed.

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