Where Were You in ’62?

Entertainment Weekly put out a run-down of the 50 Best High School movies. I suppose the older I get the more enticing articles like this become … after all, I was just in High School back in the Eisenhower administration and it’s still fairly fresh in my mind (Yes, I remember the name of my Senior English teacher but can’t recall what I ate for dinner last night).

I can’t really argue with the EW ranking and was pleased to see a few of my more obscure favorites on the list, even if way down the list (did they forget Blackboard Jungle?). The number one hands-down best High School movie of all time according to EW was … The Breakfast Club! An obvious choice? Look at the top ten and cast your personal vote for the best High School movie:

  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  • Election (1999)
  • Sixteen Candles (1984)
  • Clueless (1995)
  • American Graffiti (1973)
  • Heathers (1989)
  • Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
  • Dazed and Confused (1993)
  • Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
  • The Breakfast Club (1985)

I notice that most of these are comedies, but with a serious subtext. I suppose that is why EW selected them:  they were popular but in some way they also captured the angst of being a teenager and of being exposed to that gray area between the life as a child and the life as an adult (not to mention all the specific tortures that the High School experience entailed).

What struck me was that The Breakfast Club (which I just watched again last week) was not the same as so many other plot-driven films and stories. Oh, there was the very organic plot against the Mr. Vernon and even a dance interlude, but for the most part the movie was five High School kids chatting. My first thought when I saw that this movie was selected as #1 was, of course, it’s just like My Dinner With André which the critics adored (hey, who doesn’t love a movie with that much Wallace Shawn to enjoy?). One of the tag-lines adequately represented the film:

They were five students with nothing in common, faced with spending a Saturday detention together in their high school library. At 7 a.m., they had nothing to say, but by 4 p.m., they had bared their souls to each other and become good friends. To the outside world they were simply the Jock, the Brain, the Criminal, the Princess and the Kook, but to each other, they would always be the Breakfast Club.

There are many serious flaws in The Breakfast Club (the kooky Goth girl metamorphoses into the sweet prom queen and gets the guy?) but it did work on many levels … except one. Like all of John Hughes and many of the other High School movies, The Breakfast Club (despite Judd Nelson’s gangsta persona) was made up of affluent white kids who lived in big houses in the suburbs of Chicago (look at Ferris Bueller). I mentioned The Blackboard Jungle earlier for a reason:  not all High School kids worry about getting a prom date or what to wear for the kegger Friday night or whether they know what’s in their secret sauce. There are millions of High School kids today that are concerned about where their next meal is coming from; where they can get enough money for drugs; what they’ll do now that they are pregnant; where the gang members are going Saturday night to boost a few cars and maybe test out that new Uzi at a the school dance.

High School is where the boundaries between learning to grow up and being a grown-up often find kids failing to make the transition and encountering a lot of trouble and confusion that may take the rest of their lives to work out. John Hughes in The Breakfast Club addresses one view of the difficulties behind growing up. But movies like The Blackboard Jungle take the experience to a very different level in a very different direction.

Perhaps EW should have included Bowling For Columbine.

2 thoughts on “Where Were You in ’62?

  1. I actually watched Ferris Bueller earlier this evening and was overcome by the blatant patrician attitudes expressed in the film. Watch Ann and Mitt Romney and then watch Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. The similarity is amazing.

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