I admit it: I still like The Breakfast Club

By Caitlin Kelly

THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ยฉUniversal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

This can be a real vote-splitter or relationship dealbreaker.

It’s basically a movie about five white kids in suburban Chicago, detained for bad behavior for a full day in their high school library.

Who cares, right?

Made in 1985, it opens and closes with a great tune by Simple Minds, Don’t You (Forget About Me) and was shot in a set in the gym of a high school closed in 1981.

But it’s really about what it feels like to be a teenager — misunderstood or ignored or bullied by your peers and/or teachers. To feel at odds with your parents, whose lofty expectations of success and prowess — you know, living up to your potential — can feel like an elephant sitting on your chest.

The movie was shot within three months for a reputed $1 million, since earning more than $97 million in box-office receipts. I can’t imagine how many residual checks its actors are still receiving, decades later.

It’s also about something that really never changes, no matter where you live or when you grew up — how you can spend four years in high school and walk past the same people for days, weeks and months assuming you have nothing in common, nothing to say to them or vice versa.

The five students are each a “type” — the criminal, the princess, the brain, the recluse and the jock.

I identify most with the brain, the nerdy kid who geeks out over physics and Latin club. Not that I was so smart, but I definitely didn’t fit the other categories.

I arrived at my Toronto high school halfway through Grade 10, a terrible time to arrive — halfway through the second year?! Even worse, I’d chosen a school in a neighborhood so insular that everyone there had been attending the same schools since their first grade. The lines were well-drawn, the cliques established.

I hadn’t even been in a public school, or in a classroom with boys, since Grade Seven. I had pimples and wore the wrong clothes and was far too confident, (having attended single sex schools and camps where I won every award available.)

I was nicknamed Doglin, barked at in the hallways, a dog bone laid on my desk. It was brutal. I cried every day after school and would crawl into bed with all my clothes on when I got home.

My torturers were all male, a gang of three or four, one a redhead with freckles whose 50s-ish nickname (and this long past the 1950s) was Moose.

I made a few dear friends, which kept me sane, and I made the team, two years in a row, for a high school television quiz show and our team did really well.

It finally got better in my senior year when — yay!!!!! — I even got chosen as prom queen, and will regret forever I have no photo of my gorgeous butter yellow chiffon gown, complete with matching scarf. I’m not sure I ever felt so pretty. Even then, a very long time ago, it cost $125, a bloody fortune.

By the time I graduated, I’d had a really cool boyfriend, sold three photos to a magazine for its cover and another to our school library. I’d rounded up my pals to create a school newspaper that fellow students were glad to have once more.

I still don’t know what turned it all around, but am so glad it had a happy ending.

Then, at our 20th. reunion, I re-met one of my closest friends and we re-ignited our friendship, which has continued on for decades more. We’ve visited their lake-side home in Ontario many times, in every season, and our husbands love spending time together.

Neither of us ever had children.

But our friendship is a joy and a pleasure I thought we’d lost.

How was high school for you?


30 thoughts on “I admit it: I still like The Breakfast Club

  1. I went to a small, all Jewish high school that spent half the day studying our religion. And for the most part I had a pleasant experience. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of some of the classes that went deeper into Judaism’s more obscure tenets (how does a bonfire signaling a holiday starting have anything to do with us in the 21st century?), but I did well for the most part, I had a good group of friends around me (I’m still friends with many of them), and I was well-known as the eccentric writer who wrote (and occasionally published) really creepy fiction, did hilarious impressions of the HAL 9000, Queen Elizabeth, and Marge Simpson on the morning announcements, and could talk your ears off about manga or Stephen King if you let him.
    I don’t think anyone ever hated me, and I’m not sure if I hated anyone in particular. It was a pretty chill school, despite its flaws (what school doesn’t have them?). The teachers were cool with my wild side, though they made sure I reined it in during their classes if they felt I was getting too excited or goofy. I ran a student newspaper for a couple of years called The Busted Server (because our school servers frequently went on the fritz), I sold tickets at the basketball games and became something of a local fixture with the parents from visiting schools who recognized me when I took their money, and during my last year, I won the Creativity Award and was nominated for the English award.
    So yeah, high school was pretty nice. I wouldn’t go back if I had the chance (I like independence, a growing bank account, and a drink on the weekends too much), but I had a good time and have some fond memories. And if there’s a reunion ever (something not currently done at the school), I’d probably go back to catch up and see what my friends are doing.

      1. Oh my God, that impression! It was my first impression on the morning announcements. I was taking a film class at the time, and while we were discussing 2001: A Space Odyssey, everyone realized I had the best HAL 9000 impression. So my teacher, Mr. Guinan, and I decided to play a prank on the school. The first opportunity we got, we signed up for the morning announcements, and we gave the announcements as Mr. Guinan and the HAL 9000 supercomputer. And about halfway through, I pretended to kill Mr. Guinan on air, finishing the announcements as HAL. And about half the school thought that a supercomputer (none of them realized it was me until I told them) had killed the head of the English department. It was hysterical.

  2. So, I went to an all-girl high school. Student Council, class VP, etc. Leadership was my thing. But, I often wonder if the same experience would have been had at a coed high school. Strong women, regardless of age, still seem to be tormented by less than enlightened males. Thank God that tide is turning (hopefully) with strong mothers, aunts, etc. educating the next generation.

    1. You can always tell the women who attended single sex schools — we expect to be treated like the smart, competent people we are, and were taught to be (come.)

      Like so many women, I’ve spent my life and career exhausted by sexist bullshit and male entitlement.

  3. it was mixed for me, i didn’t really want to be there, but made some good friends and got along with most people. i was happy to move on when it was over. i enjoyed seeing them at my reunion a few years back, but have really only kept in touch with one – p.s. i always loved the movie

      1. Yeah, It’s always a crap shoot when your parents decide it’s time to move to the US..and you’re a HS junior.. ๐Ÿ˜–.. (emphasis on the crap..HAHA)

  4. Fatima

    I went to a Canadian comprehensive high school with most people moving on to community college. (We had vocations.) Like one commenter it was a mixed bag and I was the nerd. (I would say still am.)

    I remember feeling bored. My parents were immigrants and they didn’t know I needed something a bit more stimulating. I did remember trying to jump ahead in grade 10, I actually took the grade 11 Canadian history class during the second semester. They just instituted AP classes and I took AP English. A teacher at my high school actually didn’t like that idea. He told me, why I don’t know, having these sorts of classes takes the brightest people out or some such thing. He failed to see I was so bored and so tired of dealing with idiots not wanting to learn no matter what a teacher did to motivate them. We were the high school not expected to have too many academic standards. The other two high schools in the area had a reputation for academics. You sent your kids to my school to learn a trade or do business ed.

    I had a few good friends but I remember feeling so happy to graduate. It meant moving on to university and not getting belittled for wanting to read and learn. This took longer than intended.

    1. Wow. Thanks for sharing that.

      I was shocked — and I went to a decent Toronto high school — how little it seemed to matter to some teachers if we excelled or not. That came as an unpleasant surprise after private school where you’re expected to be smart and compete and operate at your highest potential. I also know the sexism played a role in this as well; my Grade 13 biology teacher dissuaded me from taking first yr biology at U of T because it would be “too hard.” Better I should have tried and failed.

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  6. High school? I somehow navigated it without getting torn to shreds. Not “popular” nor geek nor athlete, I suppose I was a pretty, smart, kind girl who didn’t tic any cliques off, so I was safe to straddle several groups without being in any of them.

    Come to think of it, that kind of balancing act was exhausting!

  7. The movie and the story of your move to a new high school brought back memories! I moved across the country, from Indiana to South Carolina, during my junior year of high school. It was total culture shock. I was a college-prep student, taking all advanced courses. I had to present my transcript from my previous school to each teacher at the beginning of class. I remember that the first teacher on that first day announced to the entire class that I was the top student in my class at my old school (not a huge feat, as it was a small rural school). Definitely did not help me make friends! I never really found my place there but was so happy to graduate a year and a half later and go off to college, where everyone was starting fresh!

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