My Favorite Character in Breakfast Club Is the Janitor
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Why My Favorite Character in The Breakfast Club Is the Janitor

I used to idolize the teens in John Hughes movies — but I was so, so wrong.

Still of Breakfast Club film

It wasn’t too ago that I strongly identified with all the main characters in The Breakfast Club. Not only as a stand-in for myself but also as potential friends.

I could complain about the world with Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) and then light patchouli incense sticks in her bedroom. I could geek out with Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) over comedy and magic. John Bender (Judd Nelson), with his fingerless leather gloves, would meet me down by the electrical towers to talk about Pink Floyd’s Animals album and our mutual hatred for all things authority.

I liked them all and saw them each as likable (if damaged) entities.

That was then. This is now. While recently rewatching Breakfast Club with my 13-year-old daughter, I could only look on with horror or at least bewilderment.

This was the movie you liked so much?” my daughter asked, her attention immediately reverting back to her iPad.

Her comments grated on me, as they often do when she’s side-talking to me while playing Minecraft. But the child had a point. It was hard to believe that I once saw this genus of teens, wallowing in self-pity, as clever, remarkable, artistic or badass.

My newfound disdain isn’t limited to the five Saturday detention students from Shermer High. I’ve reconsidered my feelings about all the John Hughes ’80s teen movies. 

Duckie (Jon Cryer) in Pretty in Pink, a scamp I once admired for his plucky devotion to sartorial creativity through zoot suit trousers and two watches, is a creature I now find more cringingly awful than anyone on The Walking Dead

Ferris Bueller is a bore and a sociopath whose idea of a magical adventure is to “borrow” a priceless car and drive it into the big city to visit an empty museum, take in a baseball game in the cheapest and worst seats, flash strange hand signals at the stock exchange, and then dance on the roof of a stranger’s car.

It’s the characters once considered movie villains that I now empathize with the most. The middle-aged men and women who put up with the whininess, the laziness, the sheer awfulness of these not-fully-formed humans.

When I watch Home Alone now, my heart goes out not to Kevin but to Peter and Kate, the exhausted parents. Mistakenly leaving behind a child is not going to win any parental awards, true, but the job really ain’t easy — especially when traveling. 

When I now watch Pretty in Pink, it’s the alcoholic father I’m rooting for. Finding a new job at midlife can be excruciating. Who wouldn’t need a drink? Especially after listening to a daughter wax on endlessly about her unrequited love for a rich dufus named “Blane”? Let the man enjoy his damn martini.

Out of all of them, though, the character I most closely identify with is Carl from The Breakfast Club, a janitor who was once king of the school, the former Man of the Year, now reduced to cleaning up the detritus of students who barely pay him the scarcest of attention. 

And yet he seems content enough with his current position. He’s seen life. He knows what it’s like out there. He just wants to do his job and get the hell home. Maybe have a nice meal with his wife, watch a little TV before hitting the bed at a reasonable hour. And then do it all over again the next day. 

Carl is the man I’ve become: a bit grizzled, perpetually fatigued, yet fully aware that life’s childhood fantasies don’t always — in fact, very rarely — match the realities of what was once daydreamed as a teen.

I now see myself as I want to. Slow change may pull us apart … but let’s not forget that, in the end, the realities of living a life, and not just imagining one, tend to pull us all together. In the end, we’re a lot more similar than we ever thought — no matter the roles we, or others, forced us into at 17.

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