The Ballad of Claire and Allison: The OTP of “The Breakfast Club”

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Today marks the 30th anniversary of the beloved John Hughes film The Breakfast Club, also known as the coolest film I ever got to watch when I had a substitute teacher in middle school. At age 12, it blew my mind, and growing up I realized this was a shared sentiment among a lot of people of my generation and the ones both above and below me. (I was two when the film came out so I missed it in the theaters. Thanks Mom!) Everyone could relate to something in the teen film, whether it was deciding if they were “A brain. An athlete. A basket case. A princess. A criminal,” or a mix of the five or none at all.

But what I loved most about the film, which made much more sense to me years later, was the tension between Claire and Allison.

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As far as the boxes they fit into, Allison (Ally Sheedy) was the “basket case” and Claire (Molly Ringwald) was the “princess,” which was largely communicated by their fashion choices.  Clad in all black and oversized layers, Allison was anti-social while Claire had some edge in a brown leather jacket and matching gloves (???) but eventually revealed her pale pink top that screamed suburban royalty.

Claire was really upset by any insinuation she had a “hot beef injection” (ew) from Emilio Estevez‘s Andrew, which is because (spoiler!) she’s a virgin. But perhaps she was also just not that into him. (He was a little bit of a homophobe, after all.)

For most of the film, Claire spends most of her time upset she has to be in Saturday detention at all, and defending herself from the lewd comments of Bender (Judd Nelson). Allison, meanwhile, chews her fingernails (lesbian-length?), creates art from her dandruff and makes squeaking noises to entertain herself because everyone else is boring her. They’re all supposed to be working on an essay but when you’re a teen, you naturally revolt. (“Fuck that essay! I do what I want!”)

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Claire’s parents are in a rough divorce situation, which she explains as them using her to get back against each other and Allison screams, “HA!” Claire spins around, “SHUT UP!” Thus begins their flirtation. But Bender won’t leave Claire the hell alone, asking her intrusive questions about her virginity and sexual experience. She doesn’t answer (because she doesn’t have to) but she’s supposedly turned on. (Or so we’re led to believe throughout the film.) He’s a disrespectful douche, but the ’80s couldn’t handle lesbians yet. (See: Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful.)

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Claire has a really low tolerance for dehydration (OMG SO DO I!) so Allison and Andrew get sent to the teacher’s lounge for some pop, even though Allison prefers vodka (OMG SO DO I!). Meanwhile, Bender is still bugging the shit out of Claire. She wishes she was heading to France, but instead, she has to endure a bunch of sexist crap. High school! (He later puts his head BETWEEN HER LEGS.)

At lunch, Claire is eating fucking sushi and Bender says, “You won’t accept a guy’s tongue in your mouth and you’re going to eat that?” Allison sticks with Coke because the teacher’s lounge was out of liquor. She knows everyone wants her to be a weirdo, so she performs, making art out of her food before shoving it in her mouth. 

Bender brings out some weed from his locker, which instantly makes things more interesting. The group (which, BTW, includes “geek” Brian, played by Anthony Michael Hall) begin to open up to one another, which has us finally learning a little bit more about Allison—kind of. She’s a self-professed compulsive liar, but she starts talking, at least. Her home life, she says, is unsatisfying. She wants to be anywhere but in her small town Illinois household. Brian and Andrew don’t understand her. They think she’s faking her unhappiness, and say that everyone hates their home life. If they didn’t, they’d live with their parents forever. She sees them as sheep, who follow what everyone else dictates for them. 

Allison knows people think she’s a little bit crazy, but she seems pretty alright with it. She’s different than her peers, a feeling I could (and can) relate to. She was the ultimate outsider of The Breakfast Club, because if everyone could agree on one thing, it was that she was weird. They can’t figure her out, and she likes it that way.

The group begins to have a conversation about (what else?) sex.

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Claire being a virgin, to me, did not mean she was a prude. As someone who didn’t know I was gay (until age 20!), I never felt the pull to sleep with guys like my peers did. I always thought I’d meet someone I was interested in when I went away to college. Kind of like Cher in Clueless (High school guys? “As if!”), or Megan in But I’m a Cheerleader (“It’s really easy to be a prude when you’re not attracted to him, isn’t it?”) (BTW, I also wanted Cher to be gay, but I’ve written about that before.) So for Allison to feel like a misunderstood outsider who would rather be seen as hyper-sexual (she brags about sleeping with her shrink but later takes it back and admits she, too, is a virgin) and Claire a virgin who seems disinterested in having sex with guys, you can see why I might have hoped they’d end up leaving detention together at the end of their day.

As the princess, Claire fields stereotypes of being popular and privileged, which makes her cry. (Specifically Bender. Bender makes her cry.) Then Allison starts to cry. 

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But Claire says that she won’t be friends with Allison, come Monday. Allison admits she doesn’t have any friends, but if she did, they wouldn’t be judgmental about who she hung out with: “I don’t think the kind of friends I’d have would mind.” Claire says she hates going along with what her friends say, and that no one understands “the pressure they can put on you.” Claire would do just about anything to keep up appearances. 

After bonding, the group get a little wild in the library, dancing together.

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A new bond has formed, like it does anytime you’re in a situation with a small group of people for a significant amount of time. Claire requests that Brian (“the smartest”) write one collective essay for them all, and she spends her time giving Allison a make-over. 

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Allison asks.

“Because you’re letting me,” Claire says.

And then begins the worst scenes of the movie, with Claire suddenly wanting to form a romance with Bender, and Andrew enjoying Allison’s headband, blush frilly pink tank top enough to take notice of her. “I can see your face!” he says. 

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Detention is finally over, and what we’ve all learned is that bad boys can berate you and turn you on at the same time while make-overs get you boyfriends. So basically, the awesomeness that was the message of the movie was wrapped up in a baby pink bow for palatable consumption. Ick.

The good news is that, since the movie came out and became a hit, both Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald have become not only LGBT allies, but successful actresses who have proudly played lesbian roles. Ally Sheedy notably went on to play the hottest lesbian photographer ever in Lisa Cholodenko‘s High Art, which was one of the first movies I watched after realizing I was a lesbian, and felt like things came a little bit full circle.

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Molly Ringwald starred as a late-in-life lesbian on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

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In my dream world, the princess and the basket case would end up together, but in the real world, I’m happy I can still find the subtext in most of The Breakfast Club that I didn’t know I was looking for when I was an impressionable young woman searching for myself in the cool girls in movies and TV. Thankfully they grew up to be just as awesome as they were in the first 90 minutes of one of the films that made them stars. Maybe if Allison and Claire had met 10 years later, things would be different.

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