A group of disparate high school students is forced to gather on a Saturday, under the watchful eye of a cranky educator, only to end up baring their souls and learning they have more in common than they initially thought. That, of course, is the plot of the 1985 John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club. It's also the plot of Nicholas Celozzi's The Class, a film that really, really, really wants to be a Breakfast Club for the 21st century. The goal, in and of itself, isn't bad, except that instead of finding its own way, the picture tries so hard to copy its inspiration that it becomes akin to the botched Jesus fresco that caught the world's attention several years back.
The students are a typical hodge-podge of types: aspiring singer Jesse (Hannah Kepple), neurotic rich girl Allie (Juliette Celozzi), jock Max (Colin McCalla), depressed and possibly dangerous Michael (Michael Sebastian), tough girl Casey (Lyric Ross), and Jason (Charlie Gillespie), the requisite Judd Nelson type. They've been made to attend school on a Saturday to take a drama class exam that they all either missed or failed. Their teacher, Miranda (played by '80s pop icon Debbie Gibson), doesn't plan to give the exam traditionally. She leads the students through an acting exercise designed to help them get in touch with their feelings. Breakfast Club alum Anthony Michael Hall plays Mr. Faulk, the assistant principal who thinks Miranda's unconventional approach is ridiculous.
Aside from the general premise and the casting of Hall, references to The Breakfast Club are everywhere in The Class. John Kapelos, who played Carl the janitor, has a small supporting role. Student council election posters on the wall urge students to vote for “Molly Waldring.” The writing of an essay factors into the finale. Very few moments exist where the movie isn't trying to let you know it's aping a classic.
The difference between the films is vast, in part because Celozzi is no John Hughes. For starters, Hughes knew how to quickly draw characters who felt real. From the moment his kids entered that library, we knew who they were. Perfectly cast actors added to the impact. Characters in The Class are generic and thinly drawn. Even after spending two (very long) hours with them, I didn't feel like I knew a single one. And while the stars, particularly Gillespie and Kepple, are good, they don't embody their roles to the degree that Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, and the others did.
Hughes additionally had a specific focus – how the kids felt about themselves. The Breakfast Club addressed the way high school puts teens into cliques, yet also how those same teens let it happen. One of the story's undercurrents is that they get messed up by adults, consequently believing they have to live within defined parameters. In The Class, every student has a big, dramatic secret that they take turns tearfully revealing. It rings false. Rather than seeming like a realistic slice of adolescent life, the movie plays like the overwritten melodrama it is. Making that matter worse, Celozzi feels the need to have his characters verbally express the lessons they've learned, just in case the audience is too dumb to understand.
This is a shame, because there are appealing qualities to The Class. Gibson and Hall are effective and fun to see together, a few individual scenes generate interest, and the movie has an earnestness that's difficult to be critical of. I was 15 when The Breakfast Club was released. It literally changed my life, altering how I perceived my school, my peers, and myself. But that was 37 years ago. Maybe today's teens will feel this film speaks to them. What we can say definitively, though, is that people are still watching The Breakfast Club nearly four decades later. The same won't be true for The Class.
out of four
The Class is unrated, but contains adult language and mature thematic content. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.