Molly Ringwald on life after The Breakfast Club

Last updated 05:00 02/06/2013
breakfast club

AS THEY WERE: Judd Nelson, Emilio Estervez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, and Anthony Michael Hall in an image from the 1985 film, in which the characters were locked in a school library all day.

Molly Ringwald
THE 20 TIMES YOU WANTED TO BE MOLLY RINGWALD IN THE 80s: When she wore this to the prom and Ducky showed up for her.
Breakfast Club
25 YEARS ON: Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson at a 2010 celebration of the 25th anniversary of The Breakfast Club.
breakfast club
TEEN QUEEN: Star of the Breakfast Club, Molly Ringwald, now 45, will perform in Auckland this month.
breakfast club
BORING: The characters of The Breakfast Club got bored silly during their day in detention in this still shot from the original 1985 film.
breakfast club
CHEESEY: The picture that appeared on the film poster for The Breakfast Club.

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Where are they now? What has become of The Breakfast Club, now that we're halfway through lunch, and already thinking about dinner?

Written and directed by John Hughes, this 1985 movie remains one of the defining pop culture artefacts of its era. It shot five young leads to global fame, but what befalls a teen heartthrob once they hit middle age? Whatever happened to sports jock Emilio Estevez, class nerd Anthony Michael Hall, bad boy Judd Nelson, freaky goth chick Ally Sheedy and prom queen Molly Ringwald?

You are dying to know, I'm sure, and I'm just the man to tell you. Why? Because I love The Breakfast Club like a fat kid loves cake. If you were to ask me when I was a little emotional after my third beer, I would insist that it's one of the greatest ever coming-of-age flicks, right up there with Dazed And Confused, Fast Times At Ridgemont High and American Graffiti.

After my fourth beer, I might even add Rebel Without a Cause. Consider this: just last year, Entertainment Weekly listed The Breakfast Club as the best high school movie ever made, stating: "If hell is other people - and high school is hell - then John Hughes is the genre's Sartre, and this is his No Exit."

The plot? Five teenage students are forced to bond after being shut in detention together all day. The End. Like a low-budget stage play, the main characters are mostly confined to just one room, with a teensy cast of dramatic foils (their problematic parents, a bullying teacher, a sympathetic janitor) given brief walk-on roles. Shut in the school library and bored shitless, the famous five wonder, like, 'Who am I?' 'Why do I feel the way I do?' And, 'What do you think of my fingerless gloves?'

As a teenager, awash with hormones, plagued by acne, given to dramatic outbursts and suspiciously long showers, you'd watch this stuff and be amazed someone had taken your pain and bewilderment seriously, and turned it into something you could nod in agreement with while eating popcorn. It's overly sentimental, admittedly. There are a couple of excruciating dance sequences, and a Hollywood happy ending that undercuts the more nuanced stuff that precedes it.

The bad boy character's way too old, and the makeover inflicted upon Sheedy's proto-goth chick in the final reel is an inexcusable cop-out. But as a sympathetic distillation of the American teen experience, it beats the hell outta Catcher In The Rye.

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My favourite scene? A bored Ally Sheedy doodles a dark forest on scrap paper, then scratches her own dandruff over it as snow. My favourite line? A toss-up between, "Did you slip her the hot beef injection?" and "Hey, why don't you close that door and we'll get the prom queen impregnated?" Best actor? Either Ringwald or Hall. Best ever cinematic deployment of a Scottish synth-pop ballad? Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" theme tune.

Like a classic boy band, each Breakfast Club character represents a different teen clique. You thought you had problems? 'Criminal' John Bender (Nelson) comes from a violent household. 'Athlete' Andrew Clark (Estevez) hates his overbearing father. 'Brain' Brian Johnson (Hall) contemplates suicide. 'Basket case' Allison Reynolds (Sheedy) is a compulsive liar. And 'princess' Claire Standish (Ringwald) is ashamed she's still a virgin.

Hall and Ringwald were both just 16 when the movie was made, while Estevez and Sheedy were 22, and Nelson a positively geriatric 25. Their fame peaked around this time, with Estevez, Sheedy and Nelson also appearing in Joel Schumacher's hit teen flick St. Elmo's Fire the same year. But then, disaster, in the form of a New York Magazine story called "Hollywood's Brat Pack", in which writer David Blum tagged along for a night out with Estevez, Nelson and Rob Lowe.

Comparing them to Sinatra's '60s 'Rat Pack', Blum portrayed the young stars as insufferable egotists, shamelessly flirting with groupies, jumping queues, ditching friends who bored them, complaining that various clubs they visited had no VIP areas, and disparaging less successful actors. By night's end, Estevez had driven off into the night with a Playboy model.The story made laughing stocks of the trio and their wider clique, which also included Sheedy, Ringwald, Hall, James Spader, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Broderick and Sean Penn.

Subsequent media stories gleefully compounded the mythology, conjuring images of wealthy young Brat Packers ricocheting around LA in vain little clumps, partying their arses off, pausing only to fall in love with one another - Hall and Ringwald dated, Estevez and Moore were engaged - though their first love was always themselves.

By the late '80s, many of the Brat Packers were on the skids, their careers derailed by drugs, booze, public indifference or, in Lowe's case, a sex tape. Some blamed Blum's story. "Many believe they could have gone on to more serious roles if not for that article," writes Brat Pack biographer Susannah Gora in her 2010 book, You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried. "They were talented, but they had professional and personal difficulties after that."

Whatever the reason, the core cast of The Breakfast Club failed to set the world on fire in the decades that followed. Now 51, the son of actor Martin Sheen and brother of "tiger blood"-fuelled Charlie, Emilio Estevez was once tipped to become his generation's Robert De Niro, but somehow settled for Rob Schneider. His best role outside The Breakfast Club was that of the young punk Otto in Repo Man, made the previous year.  By the early '90s, he was playing a kid's hockey coach in 'sports comedy' trilogy The Mighty Ducks. Somewhere along the way he found time to marry and divorce musical mega-flake Paula Abdul.

Anthony Michael Hall didn't fare much better. After claiming the 'greatest '80s screen nerd' crown (he was in Weird Science), his career was derailed by a drinking problem. Hall later landed a few good roles in Edward Scissorhands, Six Degrees of Separation and sci-fi series The Dead Zone before sliding down into that murky world of unfunny comedies featuring rapper Ice Cube. More recently, there have been terrible records by his rock band Hall Of Mirrors and arrests for biting his ex-girlfriend and harassing his neighbours, but The Breakfast Club's "neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie" nonetheless retains a special place in the hearts of teen-flick connoisseurs - a fact given sly acknowledgement in the 2001 John Hughes spoof Not Another Teen Movie, in which a high school cafeteria is called the "Anthony Michael Dining Hall".

Now 53, the film's token badass, Judd Nelson, also went downhill fast once the '80s had passed, and ended up voicing Transformers cartoons and appearing alongside Brooke Shields in Suddenly Susan. These days, he's one of those "hey, I know that face" dudes in a host of TV crime shows and low-budget thrillers. A fan site reveals that he spends his down-time driving fast cars and reading Dickens and Melville, though hopefully not at the same time, and his idea of a perfect evening is sitting at home eating surf'n'turf while listening to the blues.

Ally Sheedy? Soon after The Breakfast Club was released, she started dating Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora and became addicted to Halcion sleeping pills, going so far off the rails that Demi Moore staged an 'intervention' and bundled her off to rehab. Afterwards, she wrote a book of confessional poetry - wrapping tortured metaphors around her abortion at 16, her drug addiction, her bouts of bulimia, and attracting terrible reviews (New York Post: "Ally Sheedy goes from bad to verse") - before appearing in a string of undistinguished TV thrillers and straight-to-video movies. She did, however, excel as a lesbian junkie photographer in 1998 indie film High Art, probably the best post-BC role by any of the original tight five.

Which brings us at last to Molly Ringwald, who recently ranked Number One in a VH1 roundup of "Greatest Ever Teen Stars". With her copper hair and milk white skin, Ringwald was perhaps The Breakfast Club's greatest attraction; a locus of prim beauty around which all else orbits. Within a year of the movie's release, Ringwald made the cover of Time magazine, hailed as "America's princess" and "the exemplary California teen".

During the '90s, Ringwald dyed her hair brown,moved to Paris, learned to cook and married then divorced a Frenchman. She still made the occasional movie, but nothing caused a stampede at the box office. Where is she now? Right here, on the other end of my phone.

"I don't regret going to France for a second," she says from her Los Angeles home. "I'd already been acting professionally for a long time, and I felt like if I was ever gonna do something else for a while,that was the right time. Any time you're successful at a thing, people want you to do it over and over, but I've never been interested in that."

Now 45, twice married with three kids, Ringwald (who is the daughter of blind jazz pianist Bob Ringwald) regained a high profile in 2008, playing a mum in TV yoof soap The Secret Life of an American Teenager. She's also just released her debut solo album, Except Sometimes, which features a dodgy cabaret version of "Don't You Forget About Me", and will play two gigs here on June 12 and 13 to launch The Tuning Fork, an intimate new 300-seat venue at Auckland's Vector Arena.

She is not a huge fan of the Brat Pack tag. "That was just, like, a moniker that a journalist came up with. The Brat Pack was never a real thing, even though people are still asking us about it all these years later in interviews. It's my philosophy not to get too upset about any of that old stuff. After those early years I've managed to consistently work, so I've been pretty lucky."

Ringwald has also written two books, including Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick, a self-help book crammed with chummy advice on make-up, tying your Hermes scarf just so, and assembling the perfect cheese platter. In one chapter, Ringwald complains the whole "teenage" thing "has stuck to me like a barnacle", before telling the reader how to do extremely grown-up things like make bouillabaisse.

"I don't really know why The Breakfast Club was special for so many people. It reached iconic status, and I imagine that's because people have their own childhoods wrapped up in that movie, so later in life they want their own kids to see it, too.

"It's a movie where the themes are universal, so every generation can relate to it. It's about outsiderness and identity and insecurity and feeling misunderstood and out of place, and everyone goes through those things at some point. None of that stuff has really changed." 

- Sunday Magazine


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