The Breakfast Club’s Day Off
The 1980s were a crazy decade. Good things to come out of the ‘80s include DeLoreans, cocaine, Thriller and John Hughes movies. John Hughes was one of the most influential and productive filmmakers of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. We can thank him for such classics as Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck, Weird Science, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Vacation and many others. His two best films are Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the Breakfast Club. John Hughes said in an interview that Ferris Bueller and Sixteen Candles are companion films, but I disagree with him. With respect of course, but I find more parallels between Ferris Bueller and the Breakfast Club. They are the real companion films, made just a year apart, the Breakfast Club in 1985 and Ferris Bueller in 1986.
Before we get started, let me just say casting can make or break a film. Matthew Broderick is Ferris Bueller. The movie wouldn’t have worked without his performance. It is extremely difficult to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience and then jump back to talking to the other characters that aren’t aware they are in a movie. Alan Ruck was a great choice to play Cameron. Mia Sarah (Sloane) didn’t really give an amazing performance, but she didn’t ruin anything either. The Breakfast Club is an ensemble film, and if any of the five main actors were miscast the movie would have fizzled. Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy all deliver great performances, and they play off each other well.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about one person’s best day in high school. It is a fantasy, it is surreal. He is aware that he is in a movie and he talks directly to the audience, offering them advice and giving insight about himself and the other characters like Cameron. Ferris Bueller is who you want to be, he has no problems, he transcends all the cliques and he makes you appreciate living life.
The Breakfast Club is about a group of kids stuck in an all day detention in high school. It is real. They don’t talk to the audience, they talk to each other. Each kid represents a clique, and together they transcend high school politics and become friends, if only for a day. The cliques are still recognizable today, there’s the nerd, the bully, the jock, the princess, and the basket case. They know that life sucks. Some of them live less than ideal lives, and they have lots of real problems that they share with each other.
Ferris Bueller is mobile. He should be at school, but he treats the day like a Saturday and fakes being sick. He, Cameron and Sloane zip around Chicago in a flashy red Ferrari. They do more things than they could have actually done. They execute a plot to get Sloane out of school, they go to the Cubs game, they go to a museum, to a fine dining restaurant, to Sears Tower, and they even hijack a parade. The parade sequence is super extravagant, there are thousands of people singing and dancing to Twist and Shout. It is an extremely elaborate scene.
The Breakfast Club is the exact opposite. It’s a Saturday but they have to go to school for detention. These kids are stuck in the library for almost the entire time. Occasionally they go somewhere else, but they are still trapped in the school. They are stationary, and events unfold at a more natural and realistic pace. Compare this movie’s dance sequence to the grandiose parade scene in Ferris Bueller. It is much more tame and natural. They are rebelling, but in a quiet way.
The Breakfast Club is a slice of life for these high school students. They are still stuck in the politics of high school; they don’t want to be adults yet. The only two major adult characters are the principal and the janitor. The principal is a jerk, angry, strict and kind of an asshole. He represents growing up and being a suit. The janitor is kind, nice, and genuine. He represents growing up and being a failure. The parents only show up to drop off and pick up the kids at the beginning and end.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about growing up. The adults play a much more active role in the plot. Ferris’s dad shows up a few times around Chicago, unaware how close by Ferris is. Ferris’s mom loves him and checks in on him. Principal Rooney and his secretary Grace are also pretty major roles. Rooney is the main antagonist, willing to do almost anything to catch Ferris Bueller in the act. And how can you forget Ben Stein as the monotonous droning teacher? The adults are featured more because Ferris is aware that he is growing up, and there won’t be too many more days like this one, and that’s why he has to take advantage of it… “Life moves pretty fast.”
Both movies end with the main characters going home and reflecting on their day, and how their day changed their lives. They changed our lives too. They both have classic endings. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has Rooney taking the school bus in sullen defeat, while “Oh Yeah!” is playing and the credits roll, before Ferris Bueller addresses the camera one last time. The Breakfast Club has Brian the Nerd reading in voice over their paper about who they are (they are the Breakfast Club), and it ends on a freeze frame of Bender with his arm raised in triumph.
Both these movies are classics. Trying to decide which is better is impossible. Sometimes Ferris is better, sometimes the Breakfast Club is. It depends on your mood. Do you want surrealism or realism? Fantasy or real life? These are companion films, two similar and yet totally different films from the same writer/director. They are his yin and yang of high school movies, they are both sides of the coin, they are his legacy.
Critically Rated at 16/17