Sienna’s 2 year, 4 months old. She’s never step foot in a pre-school classroom. And yet last night I lay awake until 3 am thinking about Sienna’s high school experience because I had the great fortune to attend a 30th anniversary screening of what I consider to be arguably the most honest and accurate portrayals of HS life ever to grace the silver screen - The Breakfast Club - and I can’t wait to share it with my toddler daughter.
No I’m not gonna sit her down in front of the TV and show her an R-rated film filled with cursing and frank sexual conversations, but in 13 years when she’s entering the heightened social world of HS, you can bet I will because the late John Hughes’ brilliant dialogue and character development, his ability to capture and destroy these 5 HS archetypes was uncanny and stands the test of time.
Each iconic character – Molly Ringwald’s popular, “conceited” Claire; Judd Nelson’s brash, “anarchic” John; Emilio Estevez’s athletic, “strong” Andy; Anthony Michael Hall’s anxious, “nerdy” Brian; and Ally Sheedy’s silent, “screwed-up” Allison – proves to be unhappily lumped into a category by both adults and school life. Each feels better than at least one other club member because that’s how they’re supposed to feel. And each learns that they can break out of their prisons, that their comrades all share disdain for their sometimes bullying, sometimes ignorant parents and authority figures. Each learns they have flaws. Each learns they have strengths. Each learns the other is a real person and not a cardboard cutout.
Even the adults come off flawed as imperfect. Brian and Andy’s respective parents pressure their kids into being things they don’t want to be. Via his stories, John’s household is rife with abuse. Allison’s parents appear as shadows in car and completely ignore their daughter. Claire’s father equates money with love. Paul Gleason’s Principal Vernon tries to come off as all-powerful, but he’s jaded and frightened of where his world is leading. Only John Kapelas’ Carl the janitor feels sure of his position as unknowingly to the Club and Vernon, he’s the eyes and ears of the school, collecting and keeping all its secrets, sometimes for a price, yet being a custodian is not what he wanted to be.
I want Sienna to see this, to know that she doesn’t need to fit into HS cliques to be a person, to see that parents make mistakes and to understand that although I’ll have my own flaws, I’ll never an abusive father, I’ll never apply extreme pressure, I’ll always want to be in her life and help her feel safe in unsafe world. I want her to know that she can be herself, especially in high school, and that those that do succumb to stereotypes might have things going on in their lives that she doesn’t know about.
This applies to me as well. I have so much trouble remembering that I too often take things at face value. I see people with houses, fancy cars, and huge job statuses and immediately think they’re rich and happy. I see Facebook pictures and think people lead perfect lives. It’s just one terrible aspect of depression, your brain creating false worlds based on the smallest details.
So in 12-13 years I plan to sit down with Sienna and show her one of my favorite films. She’ll probably roll her eyes at watching a movie that will by then be over 40 years old, but if I do right by her, if I’m still the parent I strive to be, she’ll be receptive. And then she’ll watch the magic on the screen, fake realities shattered.
And she’ll know.
High school hasn’t changed all that much in 40 years.
Dad’s experienced the insane world that is high school. He’s a person - just like her – but with his own imperfections.
And no matter what, he’ll never forget about Sienna.
What other high school genre films do you feel fit the fold standard of The Breakfast Club?