May 15, 2004

Oh, Molly Ringwald, where art thou?

Twenty years and 10 days ago, a movie was released that would alter the genre of high school film forever. Sixteen Candles was the first of three John Hughes-directed, Molly Ringwald-starring movies released during the mid '80s. It was followed by The Breakfast Club in 1985 and Pretty in Pink in 1986. These, along with 1985's St. Elmo's Fire, are the central films made by a prolific group of young actors from the time who are now referred to as the Brat Pack.

I don't ever remember a time when the Brat Pack was not a part of my life. I have since learned that this isn't true for everyone. So, in honor of their 20th birthday, I implore you to explore the world of Brat Pack.

Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink are pretty much the same movie, except the former has John Cusack as an even bigger geek than usual and the latter has a truly hideous pink dress. These films know how to do school dances, and they both end up with fairly improbable and totally inspiring love matches for Ringwald. If you haven't seen them, you should; if you have, you're better off watching one of the following, even if it's for the 16th time.

The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire are the test of true Brat Pack-ness. Those who weren't in one of these weren't really in the "in crowd." TBC brings together five high school students for Saturday detention, includes no school dances, and virtually no other characters. The exceptions to this statement are the high school janitor and the principal—played by Paul Gleason, who was also born on May 4. (Happy 60th, Paul. Nobody can play a mentally unstable, verbally abusive principal like you!)

The film explores the idea of knocking down the walls between high school social groups. Think Mean Girls, but better. Better mostly because you get to see Emilio Estevez cry as athlete Andy Clark and Anthony Michael Hall attempt to as brain Brian.

The cast is filled out with Ringwald as princess Claire, Ally Sheedy as basketcase Allison, and Judd Nelson as criminal John Bender. The group bonds over the inability to connect with their respective parents, gets high together, and, to some extent, allows every character to move beyond his or her stereotype. The thing about TBC is that it's amazing. It's funny and it's fun and it's poignant. It makes you think you really can knock down the walls, and it kind of makes me want Judd Nelson. Is that sick?

St. Elmo's is radical: It doesn't involve Hughes, Ringwald, or high school. Despite the fact that it was released the same year as TBC and includes many of the same actors, it is about a group of recent college graduates trying to cope with the "real world." This one leaves Ringwald and Hall behind, but grabs the other three members of the club (and four of their real-life drug buddies and sex partners) to play seven drug buddies and sex partners.

These stock characters have managed to age appropriately, replacing brain, jock, princess, and basketcase with young Republican (Nelson), irresponsible man-whore (Rob Lowe), virgin (Mare Winningham), and drug addict (Demi Moore). Despite appearances, the characters are intriguing. You desperately want Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) to get Leslie (Sheedy) and St. Elmo's Fire seems like a pretty rockin' hangout. The only low point in the film is Estevez's Kirby. Besides being kind of useless, he also desperately follows around Andie McDowell. I mean, isn't the rest of the world trying to get rid of her?

Some might say the falling-outs between the characters in the film are juvenile and unrealistic, but I don't buy it. I bet that's what it really was like to be a member of the Brat Pack. So, while they're all celebrating their 20th anniversary by trying to get jobs again (except Nelson, who did an extraordinary turn on Suddenly Susan), I suggest we remember what they once were—and let the Brat Pack whine forever.