Back to School
Beyond the Brat Pack
What: Summer Fun in the Park, featuring School of Rock
When: 5:00 pm Sat., Aug. 28
Where: Marine Park, 272 Marine Dr., Blaine
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
For those of us who attended high school in the 1980s, filmmaker and screenwriter John Hughes’ coming-of-age films such as Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and the trippy sci-fi Weird Science provided a glimpse into a world where teenagers who didn’t quite fit in at high school often came out on top by the time the credits rolled.
Hughes’ films made stars out of actors Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, and Ally Sheedy—members of the so-called “Brat Pack,” along with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore—but when the ’80s came to an end, so too did Hughes’ flood of films that explored the ups and downs of navigating adolescence and the social dynamics of high school.
With the beginning of the school year just around the corner, it’s worth revisiting some of Hughes’ most popular films. I’m particularly fond of The Breakfast Club, which was released in 1985 to critical acclaim and, in 2016, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
The premise for the movie is a simple one. For various reasons, five students from the fictional Shermer High School have been sentenced to Saturday detention in the school library, and must complete a 1,000-word essay by the end of the day where each describes who they think they are. Although they’re initially stereotyped as being a brain (Hall), a snob (Ringwald), a jock (Estevez), a punk and rebel (Nelson), and an introverted outcast (Sheedy), the secrets they share over the course of the day reveal they’re all much more alike than they realized. Each of them has parents that have failed them in some way—even to the point of physical abuse, in one case—and all feel pressure to be something they’re not.
In the collective essay they deliver at day’s end—after they’ve smoked dope, exchanged confidences and kisses, and discovered an entirely different way of looking at their peers—Hall’s character Brian sums up that they know they’ve been judged as being one way, when in fact they all contain multitudes.
“Each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal,” he writes. “Does that answer your question?”
To look beyond the Brat Pack while still sussing out the vagaries of suburban culture, director Richard Linklater’s films are also worth a re-watch. Much like in The Breakfast Club, his first film—the independently produced Slacker—takes place in a single day. What’s different is that the mostly young adult characters the audience sees navigating the streets of Austin, Texas appear only once before transitioning to a new scene. Social exclusion is a recurring theme in the conversations the “misfits” have with each other, and by movie’s end you might find that the apathy, aimlessness and lack of ambition they display could just be them rejecting the social hierarchy before it rejects them first.
Linklater’s next film, 1993’s Dazed and Confused, takes place in 1976 and follows varied groups of teens on their last day of high school. Also based in Austin, the coming-of-age comedy featured future A-listers like Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, and Renee Zellweger. It wasn’t a commercial success at the time, but has gone on to become a cult smash.
It wasn’t until School of Rock that Linklater expanded the time frame of his movies to go beyond a single day or night. The 2003 hit comedy starring actor and guitarist Jack Black focused its lens on a struggling musician named Dewey Finn. After being booted out of his band, he finagles his way into a position as a substitute teacher at a well-known prep school.
The band he forms comprised of him and his musically inclined fifth-grade students is ostensibly a way for him to enter a Battle of the Bands competition and pay off his late rent, but the School of Rock—the name of the ensemble—turns out to be his saving grace. By movie’s end, Dewey is the one who’s finally come of age, even if he’s already an adult.
To see how School of Rock holds up, attend a Summer Fun in the Park event Sat., Aug. 28 at Blaine Marine Park. The screening of the outdoor movie will take place at dusk, but before that happens there will be live music from Gladstone, a beer and wine garden, and tasty treats from Paso Del Norte, Drayton Harbor Oysters, and Sugar Shack. By the time school starts the following week, you’ll already have attended class.