Ok, Fine, I Watched It: “The Breakfast Club” and “American Beauty”

Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps. This week, I check out 1985’s classic “The Breakfast Club” and 1999’s Best Picture winner “American Beauty”.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB

Ok, almost every single person I know LOVES this movie with every facet of their being, so I went into this really really hoping I wouldn’t hate this movie. Oh, if I hated this movie, I’d let you know for sure, I’d just feel like an asshole for doing it. Good news, then, because I absolutely f*cking LOVED this movie. This is probably going to be less “a review” and more “me gushing about how great of a film this is.” But I’m sure most of you will be cool with that.

The film, written and directed by John Hughes, was based on… nothing. Huh, that’s a first for me. Anyway, it stars a wonderful ensemble cast consisting of Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. The plot revolves around five teenagers stuck in saturday detention for eight hours, (we’ll get to that) who come together as a group as the day progresses in opposition to their overseer, the assistant principal. Since the characters are really the important part of the film, I just wanted to make a few quick notes on the plot itself. It’s structured extremely well for a movie where there isn’t a definitive plot structure. Other than some minor quibbles (is eight hour saturday detention a real thing? Because that seems a little insane) there really is nothing wrong with this film. It’s just expertly done.

The characters are the star attraction here. This film is famous for having at least one character anyone can relate to, if not more, and that held true for me. In fact, I was happy whenever any character was onscreen, which is really uncommon for an ensemble cast film. Usually, there are one or two characters out of the seven that you just don’t care about and think “ugh, can’t we just get back to someone interesting” whenever they show up. In this movie, even minor characters like the janitor completely freaking own their screentime. In my notes, I have at one point or another every character’s name written down followed by “is the best character in this movie”. The classic standout is Judd Nelson (who I know best as Hot Rod from 1986’s Transformers: The Movie because I’m a huge dork) who legitimately does a great job. He manages to be a d*ck in a weirdly likable way, which is an extremely tough line to ride. Molly Ringwald also nails her role and shows the change in her character very well over the course of the film. Paul Gleason plays a really funny antagonist, who still remains pretty likable right up until he physically threatens and taunts a student, which, I’ll concede, is a little much. Ally Sheedy, despite not saying almost anything for the first half of the film’s runtime, still creates an interesting character that really comes into her own once she opens her mouth. Anthony Michael Hall is immediately endearing in his nerdiness, and serves, more or less, as the heart of the group. Emilio Estevez, besides being my favorite for sure, uses his athletic alpha male persona early on to mask his inner dorkiness, which is just charming as all hell. Because let me get this straight, despite being labeled as “The athlete” Estevez’s character is just so goddamn dorky in the best way. Which is more or less the point of the movie: each of these characters is so much more well-rounded than the stereotype they’re immediately labeled as. This film is truly the best example of the old adage that a good movie is created by placing a bunch of interesting characters in a room and letting them bounce off each other. This film is that adage as a freaking art form.

Quickly, I just want to talk about a few assorted odds and ends. The soundtrack is truly perfect, complemented by the fact that this movie really does know how to pull off a montage. The characters are established early on purely visually and artfully so. The film is just expertly made. One shot that sticks in my mind as freakin’ perfect is the shot in which Ally Sheedy steals Judd Nelson’s switchblade. It’s just perfection in storytelling, joke telling, and character building in ONE…SHOT. Ok, I need to stop now, or else I’ll keep mumbling about this film’s goddamn brilliance.

FIVE out of five stars, a perfect movie.

AMERICAN BEAUTY

I’m gonna get this outta the way right up front, I sincerely beg you to see this movie if you already haven’t. Don’t read the rest of my review (I already got the page view anyway), just drop everything and watch this movie. This film deserves all its Oscars and more. I mean, seriously, holy sh*t this thing is fantastic.

The film, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball, was also not based on a novel, although it really feels like it could have been. It has an amazing cast, including Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, and his holiness Kevin Spacey, although Spacey kind of steals the movie for me. The film revolves around Spacey, his wife (Bening) and daughter (Birch), and their lives as they each go through intense personal changes and periods of self-discovery. If that sounds like kind of a bullish*tty way of saying it, that’s because it is. This film is really hard to describe in a one line summary. Spacey’s storyline, which centers on his obsession with his daughter’s sixteen year-old friend and the changes he makes to his life because of it, is more or less the main plot, as it influences the rest of the film. But, truth be told, there are so many amazing scenes and moments. All of Spacey’s fantasy scenes are fully open to analysis in a way I wish I had time for here. The visual storytelling in those scenes, and honestly throughout the movie, is on point. The early scenes taking place at Spacey’s workplace are filmed claustrophobically and impersonally, perfectly communicating everything we need to know about his working life. Honestly, it’s no wonder this film was awarded for its cinematography.

On the character front, they’re all fascinating in their own ways. Bentley gives a strange but mesmerizing performance, and has one or two of the film’s stand out scenes. Birch is instantly relatable, but evolves into a far different character by the film’s end. Bening’s entire arc is her breaking down in a way that’s both fascinating and fun to watch. Cooper’s final scenes in the movie are pitch perfect and really give a window into his character. Spacey is absolutely marvelous and alternates between being fascinating and unbelievably fun to watch. Many of his scenes from the middle of the film will doubtlessly leave a huge smile on your face. He’s just having so much fun and it’s a joy to behold. Honestly, this is another film where I wanted more of every character. And the charming, funny, and moving dialogue only helped that. This is easily one of the best-scripted movies I’ve seen this year.

The last act of the film is legitimately powerful. From the funnier scenes to the heartbreaking final moments, I stopped writing notes entirely for the whole last act because I couldn’t look away from the screen for even a second. This was the kind of movie I needed to take a long walk after to clear my head. The last line of this film hit me harder than anything I’ve seen in a long while. I can’t recommend this movie any higher.

FIVE out of five stars.

Ok, well, that’s it for this week. Somehow, I don’t think next week will be this damn good.

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