In Which the Prof Revisits His Past and Turns Surly

I came downstairs this evening after dinner to good news and bad news. The good news was that Mrs. M, chafing under the oppressive relaxation of her summer break, had cleaned the downstairs — thanks, dear! The bad news was that the TV was on, and she was watching The Breakfast Club — a movie that has always irritated me.


I realize that for people of my demographic — white, middle-class, middle-aged — this is heretical. John Hughes is supposed to have been the cinematic voice of People Like Me, and the teen archetypes (Brain/Athlete/Basket Case/Princess/Criminal) do in fact resonate. And if the dialogue is a bit — or a lot — too clever for their real-life counterparts, well, nobody really thought it was a documentary, and did people gripe about Douglas Sirk’s over-the-topness that way? (Actually, they did at the time, but that changed eventually.)

There are things I like about the movie — not least that it spawned my huge crush on Ally Sheedy, which persisted for years and inspired a song I wrote and have sung in three different bands. I think that in the mid-80s (as I was turning 20), Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald provided the Mary Ann-vs.-Ginger analog for the time. And there were funny lines sprinkled through the movie, leavening the awkward teen melodrama of Bender’s Christmas story and Brian Johnson’s immolation of a shop project. Of course, it’s a melodramatic age, and that may be why so many of my peers found it (to use a word I loathe from my students) “relatable.”

And in fact, that may be the thing that bugged me. I was two years out of high school when the movie came out, and while I still carry much of that insecurity, my wounds were definitely quite fresh then. In the Tarot deck of archetypes, I was pretty squarely a bigger, heavier version of Brian Johnson, the smart kid played by Anthony Michael Hall. I didn’t have a fake ID, but I was likely the type who would have used it to vote.

I should have seen it coming — I really should’ve. There were five kids, so the pairing of archetypes couldn’t come out evenly. The film paired them for contrasts, emphasizing both the arbitrary caste system of high school and the transient nature of the couplings; the audience and characters are aware that by Monday, it will be as though none of this had happened. The characters even acknowledge this.

So the fleeting romances are between the criminal (Judd Nelson’s Bender) and princess (Ringwald’s Claire), and between the athlete (Emilio Estevez’s Andrew Clarke) and the basket case/ugly duckling (Sheedy’s Allison, who gets the transformation treatment from Claire, but I’ll let other folks discuss that one.) We see smooches along the way, and at the day’s end.

Who does the smart kid kiss? The paper he wrote for the detention assignment on behalf of the five of them. The friggin’ punishment essay. That’s what he gets. No Allison for Brian — and as a Brian myself, it was the flaky, artistic Allisons for whom I longed, and with whom I thought I might at least have a chance. The Claires were always out of my league.

I saw the movie at the theater, in the company of the Mad Dog, and I remember griping about this very thing. And you’d think that the passage of 32 years and the acquisition of a spouse and Spawn might have swept that aside. But in some ways, seeing the movie again poked the part of me that wanted — that wants? — to be Bogart, but wound up becoming Sydney Greenstreet.

Funny, how long those sore spots last sometimes.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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2 Responses to In Which the Prof Revisits His Past and Turns Surly

  1. Andrew Stevens says:

    I really liked the film, but I was a cross between Bender and Brian (and I was probably more like Bender, particularly in looks and charm, than like Brian). Girls weren’t a problem for me. On the other hand, I did notice what you are talking about even at the time and did think that was rather unfair. Particularly since my intelligence was definitely not a handicap with girls, but a positive asset (particularly with certain types of girls/young women).

  2. Andrew Stevens says:

    Also, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Sydney Greenstreet. The man dominates the screen whenever he’s on it and not just physically. (I personally think Greenstreet has more charisma than Bogart.)

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