One of the things I have learned since high school and in more than 20 years as an arts journalist is the difference between "favorites" and "greats."
Talking Heads is my favorite band, but The Beatles are undeniably great. The former pushed personal buttons and created a substantial and significant body of work that qualifies for some level of greatness, but the latter has had an unquestionable and lasting cultural impact.
If the subject is 1980s teen movies, or even '80s movies in general, I would submit that The Breakfast Club is a great movie, certainly John Hughes' masterpiece.
Until this 1985 classic, teen movies of this era were basically sex romps — Phoebe Cates removing her top in Fast Times at Ridgemont High or the shower voyeurs of Porky's (both 1982). With Sixteen Candles (1984) and some other films, Hughes started treating teens as more than bags of hormones.
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The Breakfast Club — screening Wednesday at The Kentucky Theatre as the final film in the LexGo Totally Awesome '80s Film Festival — was ground-breaking for how it took 1980s teens, for the most part children of Baby Boomers, seriously.
In the very simple setting of Saturday detention at a suburban Chicago high school, five kids from very different backgrounds come together and slowly peel away social layers to discover they aren't as different as the clique hierarchies tell them they are. The movie also addresses real problems that became mainstream in the 1980s — divorce, latch-key children, suicide and child abuse.
"Because of national cultural shifts occurring throughout their adolescence, '80s teens were often an overlooked, undervalued and misunderstood group — something that Hughes was sensitive enough to appreciate," Susannah Gora wrote in You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes and Their Influence on a Generation (2010).
Hughes staged it beautifully, rehearsing his cast theater-style for three weeks before shooting began. He also cast the film brilliantly with young actors able to telegraph their characters' true selves from under the stereotypes before the walls start coming down. Judd Nelson as tough-guy Bender and Anthony Michael Hall as nerdy Brian were particularly brilliant.
It is a slightly flawed masterpiece. The pot-smoking scene stretches credulity, and there is enduring controversy over the messages in the third-act transformation of Ally Sheedy's Gothy Alison into a pretty girl acceptable to the jock.
But every teen film since 1985 has done business in The Breakfast Club's wake, knowing that it probably isn't enough to just cash in on hormonal boys and that teens should be taken seriously.
IF YOU GO
LexGo Totally Awesome '80s Film Festival
When: 7:15 p.m. March 27; last movie in series
Where: Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St. Free parking in Transit Center garage; enter on High St. across from the post office or Calvary Baptist Church.
Tickets: $6; available in advance at Kentuckytheater.com and at the box office.
Learn more: (859) 231-7924
March 27: The Breakfast Club
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Talk about the movies in the LexGo Totally Awesome '80s Film Festival on Twitter with the hashtag #totallyawesome80s.