Brat Pack Collection Review
"You've never had it so good!" That phrase might have had its origins with Harold Macmillan, telling an unconvinced population, "Stop your frickin' whining!" by other words but I wouldn't have been surprised had it also been gently said by John Noakes, Bernard Cribbins, Brian Cant or any other staple of children's television during the late-seventies/eighties at 4.55 every day, prior to John Craven's Newsround. As a child of that time - born in 1971, 14 when The Breakfast Club came out in 1985 - I may not have had it any better since...or I might. Either way, it's hard to tell as adulthood, besides opening up a whole new world of experiences, makes things awfully complicated. So complicated, in fact, that it's little wonder that we never do much more than just stumble through it with all of the thousands of mistakes making up for those times when it all comes good and the rush of success turns what might have been a disaster into a triumph.
Of course, time was when the government of the day would, through the use of Public Information Films, guide us through everyday living and it may be the current lack of them that has left us floundering somewhat. That and tax returns, which I can imagine being used as one of the preferred tortures in Hell, in between being prodded with a pointy stick and being entertained by Mariah Carey and Celine Dion duetting on a selection of tunes by Wagner. But bollocks to youth - the older I get, the more the Victorian idea of sending children up chimneys and into mines seems like a perfectly good one - which makes me, if you'll pardon the word, a parent, being the very thing that the five kids in The Breakfast Club fear more than anything else, before the terrifying reality of growing old intrudes in their blissful lives in St Elmo's Fire and, even more depressingly, About Last Night.
Opening with a voiceover by Anthony Michael Hall, which may be the only time those words ever appear in that order, The Breakfast Club stars Hall (Brian, geek), Molly Ringwald (Claire, princess), Emilio Estevez (Andrew, jock), Ally Sheedy (Allison, basket case) and Judd Nelson (John Bender, criminal) as five kids called to detention early one Saturday morning at Shermer High School. At 7am, when they come in to the school library, which is where they'll spend the next eight hours, they have nothing in common but as the day wears on and they come to some understanding with one another, bonding in their dislike of Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). They open up to each other, revealing what they did to warrant their detention on a Saturday morning and there's laughter, tears and, amongst what then passed for alt-rock, Simple Minds. But with only a few short years left until they leave for college, will their being a part of The Breakfast Club, as they title themselves, make them firm friends forever, or will the petty jealousies of their world tear them apart when Monday rolls around again?
Mention of college brings us to St Elmo's Fire, in which Rob Lowe leads a young group of brattish graduates through various crises experienced in the early years of their professional lives. For Lowe, who plays Billy, known throughout his college years as Billy The Kid for his less-than-mature outlook on life, this involves a string of unsuccessful jobs whilst trying to make it as a soulful, white-boy saxophonist in a pop band, whilst for Jules (Demi Moore), it's holding down a job in a bank whilst enjoying the of-the-time credit boom, which permits her an expensive and glossily-decorated apartment, complete with a giant painting of Billy Idol on the otherwise pink walls, a hefty cocaine usage and a look inspired by the cover of Duran Duran's Rio. Around these two fashionably selfish people are a bunch of unlikely friends - Wendy ((Mare Winningham)) dresses like her mother, is in love with Billy and struggles to be herself within a family that otherwise has her future planned, Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is a law student who obsesses over a successful doctor (Dale Biberman, played by Andie MacDowell), Leslie (Ally Sheedy) appears to be forever on the cusp of a career but without actually doing anything whilst Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is in love with Wendy and wants to write daring newspaper columns on the meaning of life but actually files nothing more than the obituary column. Finally, there is Alex (Judd Nelson), as ambitious as his cold-hearted cartoon namesake in The Telegraph, who works for a Republican senator, despite being a Democrat at college, and who secretly yearns for a life of domestic bliss, which includes making Leslie his wife. She, however, is unsure, feeling that his proposal has come much too soon, a feeling that's shared by her friends, not about the marriage but about real life, which seems to have caught them unprepared for it, never knowing that on the day they walked out of their college, the good times would be drawing to a close.
Finally, About Last Night, which is an adaptation of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, reunites Rob Lowe and Demi Moore as Danny and Debbie, who meet at a softball game and quickly begin a relationship. The sex is great - for them, I assume, it's rather dull for the audience - but despite falling in love and agreeing to move in together, they are left wondering if there's anything else to their relationship. The wise words of Debbie's friend Joan (Elizabeth Perkins) are largely ignored, as is she when Debbie begins spending more and more time with Danny, whilst Danny's friend Bernie (James Belushi) has little to offer other than asking if Debbie gives head or recounting his own latest sexual adventure. As their work suffers and they argue over how best to dispose of tampons in their shared bathroom, they realise just how unprepared they are for commitment, happy when could retreat back to their own apartments but feeling lost when, having fought, they still have to share a bed at night.
Unlike Creature Triple Feature, which I placed in some kind of order based on nothing more than that in which I watched them, this Brat Pack Collection, possibly only by accident, follows some kind of thematic structure, that being how dreadful it is to grow up. Looking more shellshocked than did the survivors of the Vietcong camps in The Deer Hunter, which includes the terrifying sight of a blank-eyed Nicky (Christopher Walken) in Hanoi, the five kids in The Breakfast Club appear to be almost suicidal at the thought of becoming their parents as they get older, each one blaming them for becoming as fucked-up as they are. John Bender shows off a cigar burn on his arm, which he says was inflicted by his father, whilst Allison complains about being ignored. Personifying adulthood on the day is Richard Vernon, a slickly-dressed head teacher - Bender memorably asks of him, "Does Barry Manilow know you've been raiding his wardrobe?" - who both resents having to spend his Saturday overseeing their detention whilst, I suspect, secretly enjoying the, as he puts it, cracking of skulls.
Worse is to come with St Elmo's Fire and About Last Night, which continue the theme of growing older being a kind of dreadful curse. Where The Breakfast Club at least had the foolishness of youth on its side - all sixteen-year-olds make such ridiculous statements as Allison's, "When you grow up, your heart dies" - these latter two films have no such excuses with St Elmo's Fire being as stark a warning about leaving university/college as the sight of a blank-faced young professional in a cheap suit, an overdraft and an expression of concern over the whereabouts of their stapler being pushed into a room full of graduates at a careers fair. She may begin the film as a good-time girl but Jules ends it as a moral tale over enjoying the excesses of life, whilst Billy and Alex are flip sides of the same coin, one being an example of what happens when you don't grow up, the other being someone who grows up too soon. Amongst this cast of cyphers, Kevin might be the film's heart but it's genuinely hard to accept that any newspaper editors would have time for his pieces on the meaning of life, being the sort of thing that even his college magazine would have balked at.
About Last Night continues this progression into the nightmare at the heart of modern relationships with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore being each other's penance when their first flush of love careens hopelessly out of reach. Based on a play, it's a very stagey drama that's not helped by it opening with James Belushi and Rob Lowe talking over the white-on-black titles, thus creating the impression that it would work equally well on a late-night strand on Radio 3, being much too foul-mouthed for the relative safety of a pre-Today In Parliament slot on Radio 4. Equally, the sex is quite daring for a film starring two young stars of the mid-eighties - Rob Lowe was still recklessly attractive and Demi Moore had a good decade to go before her transformation her grim, steely-eyed ambition ushered any naivety away - but it's James Belushi who's the star of the piece, displaying a confidence as Danny's stereotypically male friend that he's lacked in other roles.
Of course, being the eighties, there's much cultural baggage, including songs by Bob Seger, Sheena Easton and Simple Minds, clothes that appear to be constructed from satin, shoulder pads and soft pastel shades - domestic bliss is assured in About Last Night when Danny and Debbie wear sports sweaters but conflicts arise when their clothing is not so complementary - as well as the thought that the saxophone is an instrument that belongs in a rock band. Whilst it's hard to believe that tying a bandana around your boot, as worn by John Bender in The Breakfast Club, was ever worn by anyone outside of a movie set, David Steele is proof that the white collar/blue-striped shirts of Alex in St Elmo's Fire were actually commonplace in the political class. But it does say something of the time that I accepted the white shirt, jeans and red braces of Emilio Estevez's Kirby as being perfectly acceptable mid-eighties garb before he's revealed as a waiter at St Elmo's Bar and that this, along with a gingham apron, is his uniform. Pride of place, though, must surely go to Jules' pink apartment in St Elmo's Fire.
But I'm troubled by these films, as much for once thinking of them as hugely cool, particularly The Breakfast Club, as by their simple outlook on life, which, in amongst the hetero sex and drug use (grass in The Breakfast Club, cocaine in St Elmo's Fire), is occasionally prudish. Much as I would have dearly loved to have put a fifteen-year-old or two down in front of The Breakfast Club to gauge their reactions to it - being thirty-four, I know but a few fifteen-year-olds and am wary about getting to know any more should it attract the attentions of the local constabulary - I'm closer to Richard Vernon than to John Bender and in the years between first watching this film and now, my sympathies have shifted somewhat. During the only scene in which there's any palpable tension, being that in which Vernon, week-by-week, tallies up John Bender's misdemeanours, I couldn't help but think, "Fuck him, give him another two months detention, if only to stop him breaking into cars, tagging some indecipherable nonsense on the side of a subway train or concussing a pensioner." Never being the kind of person who's wanted a regular table in a bar - come the time a barman knows what you drink, it's time to move on - I thought the upwardly mobile stars of St Elmo's Fire never quite realised the irony in looking in at those sat at their table and thinking them to be assholes whilst the sober braggadocio in the Irish bar in About Last Night is yet more proof of the accuracy of two rules - that the only place that Irish bars should be is in Ireland and that one should never enter a bar without intending to leave it at least incapable of speech, if not movement.
But it's the fear of homosexuality that's most odd, with the cast of The Breakfast Club being many varied things but never gay. Similarly, Billy might be wayward and he and Alex may cheat on their wives/girlfriends but when Jules tells Kevin that she believes him to be gay, he gives her a look that suggests she had photographic evidence of him self-fellating, being one of guilt, revulsion and panic. I couldn't quite understand the speed with which Kevin runs on being greeted by Jules' impeccably groomed neighbour, Ron. In a decade that remains an example of liberalism, both economically and socially, to have this conservatism woven through the films would be like having a night of pleasure in all its forms with the Young Conservatives, not being one that is altogether welcome.
And therein lies the problem with these films. Being made to appeal to teenagers in a certain era, they look terrifically dated now. When the troubled Bender chooses a guitar riff to illustrate his off-the-rails personality, Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love is not the one that first comes to my mind but it clearly did for John Hughes. Rob Lowe footling about on stage with his saxophone wouldn't impress anyone but for those who still swoon over Spandau Ballet's Steve Norman whilst the most shocking thing about About Last Night is Elizabeth Perkins' wouldn't-get-away-with-it-now speech about sex to a room full of five-year-olds. I leave these films dreading my next viewing of my favourite Hughes film, Pretty In Pink, fearing that its romantic sheen will crumble as did my fondness for The Breakfast Club, which evaporated in the 93 minutes that it took to watch the film.
Variable is the best that one can say about the presentation of these three films on DVD. St Elmo's Fire is frequently very good, enjoying a flattering shoot about Washington and Chicago whilst The Breakfast Club and About Last Night look much more soft and grainy in comparison. Whilst no disc is particularly bad, they're not very impressive either and even on a regular television screen (28"-32"), the softness in The Breakfast Club and About Last Night is obvious.
As for the audio tracks, there's an equal amount of variation - The Breakfast Club comes with two surround tracks (DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1) whilst St Elmo's Fire has a Dolby Digital 4.0 and About Last Night a stereo soundtrack. None are bad but they're all rather ordinary with even the DTS track on The Breakfast Club only being an example of the same-as-Dolby-Digital-only-a-bit-louder DTS. There's a wide range of subtitles, including extra features but Joel Schumacher's commentary on St Elmo's Fire is not subtitled in English.
The only extra on the three discs that deserves a mention is the Director's Commentary on St Elmo's Fire by Joel Schumacher who, regardless about what you might think of his accessorising of nipples on Batman, is a gossipy, teasing contributor to these tracks. On this one, he begins tentatively, being chatty but cagey, but forty-minutes in he hits his stride with a story about the Jesuits who ran the Georgetown campus not letting him shoot his film there due to the lack of repercussions from the pre-marital sex in the movie.
Showing a distinct lack of shame, Schumacher asked them why they had allowed The Exorcist to be shot there, pointing out to them that a pre-pubescent girl masturbating with a crucifix and shouting, "Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!" to a Catholic priest was much, much worse than anything in his film to which the media-canny priests countered that evil was defeated in The Exorcist, not so in Schumacher's film. That Billy goes off, saxophone in hand, to New York to make it in the music business, I tend to agree with the Jesuits, believing them to be harsh but fair.
Otherwise, each of the three discs has a mix of trailers and cast/crew profiles - The Breakfast Club only has a Trailer (1m28s) whilst both St Elmo's Fire and About Last Night have Talent Profiles and trailers for Mortal Thoughts (1m51s) and the other film (About Last Night on St Elmo's Fire and vice versa).
The Breakfast Club, in particular, reveals the lack of a truly youthful voice in these films. When Emilio Estevez comes out of a smoke-filled office, where we assume he's been smoking a joint, and cartwheels and sprints around the room to some dreadful soft metal guitar solo, anyone with actual experience of drugs will wonder where he found the energy from. Indeed, I'd suggest that his reaction comes more from freebasing cocaine than having lit up a joint, which would have been more likely to have left him lying on the sofa staring at the ceiling than doing gymnastics. When Grange Hill left Zammo slumped against the wall of a toilet block after shooting up, it was more realistic that The Breakfast Club's Estevez dancing and Hall's comedy voices.
Never trust anyone who goes into a pub without the intention to drink and to get drunk, as the cast of St Elmo's Fire appear to do, whilst About Last Night holds dear to the idea of a counterpoint to the main characters - James Belushi is the loudmouth bachelor to Rob Lowe's quieter romantic - that's so beloved of playwrights but which looks desperately false when brought over to film. It's all so lacking in youthful cool that I can't quite believe that they're the same films that I once loved. If you're in a mind for these films and believe that you can cope with the dreaded truth of them, as well as discs that aren't that impressive - no Special Editions, these - then enjoy these coming-of-age stories, none of which appear to have anything complementary to say about it.
View the DVD Trailer.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:17:45