Friday, April 6, 2012

Where's the "Breakfast Club" Reboot?

With the remake of "Total Recall" coming this summer, we are now officially moving into the era of reboots of 90s properties. There are plenty of 80s movies that are going to be remade over the next few years, but one of the yet overlooked titles has always stood out for me – John Hughes' 1985 teen drama, "The Breakfast Club." Now as I've said before, comedies are always harder to reboot than dramas and action films because they depend so much on their talent. Also, the John Hughes films are so much a product of their times and the particular sensibility of their director. They don't make many movies for teenagers like this anymore. The last one I remember was "Easy A," which specifically paid homage to the John Hughes movies, even giving them their very own clip montage.

But still, I can't help thinking that "The Breakfast Club" presents what should be irresistible reboot material. It has such a simple formula – five kids from a school's different cliques are stuck together in Saturday detention, and realize that they're more alike than different. It would cost next to nothing to make, the title is instantly recognizable, and there's plenty of room for improvement. "The Breakfast Club" is probably the most popular John Hughes teen movie after "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but it's also the one that has aged the most badly. The five high school types in the movie are a jock, a popular girl, a nerd, a delinquent, and an artsy girl. The kids are all Caucasian, all from roughly the same suburban environs, with the exception of Judd Nelson's working class Bender.

Surely everyone who's a fan of "The Breakfast Club" has thought about what a modern version would look like, all the new issues and divides it could address. You'd definitely need to introduce characters from racial minorities, to reflect the changed demographics of the Chicago area. Black and Hispanic kids would need to be represented. Optimally Asian ones too. Oh, but that's where we get into trouble. Remember the five high school types they did the first time? If you have racial minority characters, they immediately get pigeonholed in certain stereotypical roles – Asian nerd, black jock or delinquent, etc. You could mix and match, but not that much. The whole point of "The Breakfast Club" was presenting these high school stereotypes and spending the whole movie tearing them down. However, when you toss race into the mix, it might be too much for a teen movie to address.

Maybe in the 90s the studios would have backed some hotshot young director who wanted to take a stab at this, but in the last ten years, Hollywood has gotten much more conservative and risk-averse. You still rarely see interracial couples portrayed in movies, and there are all kinds of lingering issues with the portrayals of minority characters. Films aimed at kids and teenagers are still notoriously bad about having non-white leads unless they happen to be prestige pieces. I don't care how highly you think of "The Breakfast Club." It's not that kind of movie. It's a high school fantasy that ends with four of the five kids romantically paired off in the end, their angst validated by their shared experience.

It's actually kind of quaint, looking back on it. The problems of the Shermer High kids in the 80s seem so simple compared to today, but of course those portrayals weren't particularly true to life. The movie acquired a reputation for being deep with its target audience, because it declared that the teenage experience was a miserable one no matter where you were in the high school pecking order, and portrayed enough of the pecking order to pass for universal. Would people still buy that kind of basic platitude today? Would the gimmick still work? The trouble with "The Breakfast Club" being considered one of the most insightful and beloved teen films of all time is that a reboot would have to live up to its reputation. And it might actually have to actually be deep and interesting in a way that its predecessor never really was.

And that would mean tackling the hard issues. Race is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you imagine what would happen if you tried to address political affiliations? Religion? Sexual preferences? Bullying? "The Breakfast Club" avoided most of these land mines by choice, but you couldn't justify that anymore, considering how pervasive these issues have become in the culture and everyone's lives. Kids are more sophisticated in the 21st century. And sadly, marijuana doesn't solve everything, and it would probably get cut out of a new version anyway.

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