Written and directed by John Hughes. Five high school students get sent to Saturday detention and get to know each other. Running time 1 hour 37 minutes.
The film opens on Shermer High School and one by one, five high school students arrive to Saturday detention. Clair Standish (Molly Ringwald) is a popular, well-dressed, and wealthy teenage girl who skipped school to go shopping. In the car, it becomes clear she’s treated like a princess by her father who promises “to make it up to her” for being punished. Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) is a geeky brain teenage boy who’s mom is angry at him for potentially screwing up his grade point average and ruining his chances for college. Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) is a popular wrestling athlete and friend of Claire who took a prank too far which may jeopardize his chances of participating in the next tournament. Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) is a weird, dark, loner teenage girl who is seen around school but noone seems to know. John Bender (Judd Nelson) is a tough, punk rock, petty criminal teenager who seems to be a regular at detention. The students convene in the school library and John sets the tone in the group by saying inappropriate things to get the other kids wound up. He succeeds. Teacher Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) comes in and lays down the rules about Saturday detention and gives each of them the assignment of writing a 1000 word essay on who they think they are. It becomes clear John and Mr. Vernon have a history and do NOT get along.
Throughout the 9 hour detention day, the students reveal things about themselves either by self-admission, prompts by other students, or taunts by John. They yell at each other, argue, cry, laugh, call each other out on stereotypes or lies they each perpetuate. Even though they don’t really know or trust each other, they participate together in breaking the detention rules by running the school halls to retrieve pot kept in John’s locker. They almost get caught by Mr. Vernon, but manage to return to the library where they each smoke pot–except for Allison. She participates in running the halls but not smoking. Mr. Vernon comes and goes, flaunts his bravado as the person in charge but none of the students respect him. The custodian Carl (John Kapelos) shows up to do his work and reminds the kids he is “the eyes and ears of the school”. He knows all about the student’s secrets and that the kids look down on him.
Eventually, the kids bond over the reasons they were sent to detention as well as the pressures of being a teenager in each of their roles. Each one is challenged to see one another differently and questioned whether or not they’ll be friends when Monday comes. As a group, they decide Brian (the brain) will write one essay to cover what the group has learned about themselves and he agrees. (His essay is used as voice-over in the beginning and end of the film.) They all leave detention changed in ways they may never have expected.
What I Liked
This film covers A LOT of subjects in the dialogue. Sex, drugs, getting a long with parents, pressures of being a teenager, pressures of academic, social, and athletic performance, or just wanting to be yourself instead of going along with whatever your friends are doing. The dialogue is appropriate for teenagers. I remember having these types of conversations as a teenager myself in the 80s. John Hughes was a master dialogue writer and was able to capture what teenagers were thinking and feeling at that time which I think still resonates today. The film is obviously somewhat dated by the costuming and music; however, it’s timeless in content and significance. The majority of the film takes place in the library which works quite well for many reasons. I’m sure it kept the production cost low; but mostly because it gives the characters nowhere to go. They MUST interact whether they want to or not and the results of them doing so are revealing not only to each other to but to themselves. Each character goes through a complete arc of acceptance. Whether the acceptance sticks through to Monday, we’ll never know…
What I Wished Was Better
There are moments when loud crashes happen and Mr. Vernon does not come in to check it out. He does it once early on but then not again. I suppose the loud window shattering into a thousand pieces could’ve been when he was in the basement…Also, Mr. Vernon doesn’t come back from the basement.
This film had a great impact on me when it came out in 1985. As I watched it the other night (found it scrolling my TV guide), I could recite dialogue along with it as if 35 years hadn’t passed. (35 years? Jeesh!) At 14, I was like Claire–popular with the manicured pink-ish polish, chic outfit, and perfectly coiffed hair style but by 15, I was more like Allison–on the inside and out. I wanted to be invisible. I wore the “black shit” eyeliner, dark baggy clothes, and had dark shaggy hair–although mine was long and curly. (It was a dark period in my life…literally and figuratively.) I felt this film really captured what I was thinking and feeling and I know my friends saw themselves in this film, too.
A classic 80s John Hughes film. Deep down, we want love, respect, and know we are not alone. Available on Redbox.com On Demand and Amazon. Watch the trailer below:
Fun Facts: The script was written in two days by John Hughes. About an hour of footage was cut from the film which included longer scenes with Carl the custodian, dream sequences, and additional characters. Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, and Ally Sheedy were all in their 20s while Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael hall were 16. While they all played high schoolers in The Breakfast Club, Nelson, Estevez, and Sheedy played college graduates in St. Elmo’s Fire also released in 1985.