Molly Ringwald Believes ‘The Breakfast Club’ is Problematic and Troubling

Actress Molly Ringwald has vocally taken part in the #MeToo movement. This includes revisited — and rethinking — the iconic 80’s teen romp, The Breakfast Club. At the time, its project was both simple and unique. Four high school students from different social castes are forced to spend the day together in Saturday detention. Through a portrait of suburban teen angst and real depression, fun moments stick out timelessly: that getting high scene, with plumes of pot smoke puffing in the library, or bad boy John Bender’s triumphant ending fist pump.

And of course, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” the dreamy theme by Simple Minds. The film’s resounding message of friendship seemed familiarly kind. Although The Breakfast Club, peppered with frank and R-rated banter, was the exact opposite of an after school special. Naturally, some sexual situations arose.

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But maybe it’s time we take a closer look. Molly Ringwald certainly thinks so. The 80’s teen idol has publicly analyzed, and disavowed, the kind of behavior that’s rewarded in The Breakfast Club. She first addressed this head-on in her 2018 piece for The New Yorker: “What About The Breakfast Club?” The essay highlights what aspects of The Breakfast Club were constituted as straight-up sexual harassment. With other beloved classics like Grease being heralded as “racist, rapey, homophobic, and slut-shaming,” it seems like a good time to revisit Ringwald’s own assessment.

The Making of Molly Ringwald

As the unparalleled John Hughes muse, Molly Ringwald had already appeared in Sixteen Candles by the time she was cast as popular princess Claire in The Breakfast Club. The role was a switch-up for the unconventional Ringwald, who normally portrayed the free-spirited outcast type: Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Facts of Life. In fact, Hughes wrote the scripts for Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink specifically with Ringwald in mind to portray the intelligent young woman. In the 1980s, teen movies focused on the girl’s POV were rare. The success of both Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles proved that there was a market for such stories. Against objectively filthier flicks like Porky’s and Animal House, John Hughes’ films felt special, setting both the filmmaker and his star apart. (In her op-ed, Ringwald discusses this slice of cinema history in more detail.) And yet, even they are not exempt from cruelty.

Playing golden girl Claire in The Breakfast Club, Molly Ringwald appeared prim and prudish — exactly the opposite of thirsting John Bender (Judd Nelson), the self-ascribed criminal who practically lives in Saturday detention. Throughout The Breakfast Club, Bender acts on his clear attraction to Claire by mocking her as “Queenie” and forcing her into a physical interaction that could constitute as sexual assault. Ringwald writes: “It’s [Claire’s] rejection that inspires his vitriol.”

What About ‘The Breakfast Club?’

Molly Ringwald begins her New Yorker essay by describing the experience of watching The Breakfast Club with her 10-year-old daughter for the first time. Most innuendos went over the little girl’s head, Ringwald writes, except the up-skirt shot of Claire’s underwear when Bender is hiding beneath the table was particularly shocking. This is The Breakfast Club scene which most troubles Ringwald now, as an adult working in Hollywood, in an industry still reeling from the exposure of perverts like Harvey Weinstein.

As Molly Ringwald was quick to explain, a body double was used for the crotch clip. Ringwald, who was an actual teen, could not have legally acted in the scene. Nevertheless, she explains, the underwear shot had been difficult for her own mother to stomach back in 1985. Taking into account the discomfort it caused the actress and her family, it should be clear as day to understand, in the world of the film, that Bender’s childish move was harmful. And yet he never apologizes.

Bender Gets The Girl

And he still gets the girl. It almost feels like a twist ending, the sudden coupling off of Allison (Ally Sheedy) with Brian (Emilio Estevez) and of Claire with Bender. It’s Bender’s win — that victorious football field fist-bump — that closes the movie. As if glorifying his conquest to Olympic proportions. That’s what we remember.

“It’s hard for me to understand how John was able to write with so much sensitivity, and also have such a glaring blind spot.”

-Molly Ringwald

THAT scene from ‘Sixteen Candles’

Of all the moments in John Hughes movies that have not aged well, Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) pawning his unconscious girlfriend off to the geek (Anthony Michael Hall) is probably the worst. In her New Yorker piece, Molly Ringwald discusses this storyline and says that she reached out to Haviland Morris, the actress who played Caroline in Sixteen Candles. Morris, apparently, does not share Ringwald’s disgust over the problematic episode.

Ringwald details their complex conversation in The New Yorker and repeating Morris’ point that Caroline’s predicament was not “black-and-white” without judgment. Maybe it seems futile to judge the movies of our past. But with the work of John Hughes in particular, I think, there’s a discussion to be had. After all, these are the movies that defined and continue to inspire the coming-of-age genre. They’re still speaking to an impressionable audience.

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