Pretty in Pink (1986)
A common misconception is that John Hughes directed the romantic comedy Pretty in Pink. The famed director did serve as scriptwriter, so his touches are sprinkled throughout this Brat Pack feature. However, director Howard Deutch handled his script well enough to land a charming debut
A common misconception is that John Hughes directed the romantic comedy Pretty in Pink. The famed director did serve as scriptwriter, so his touches are sprinkled throughout this Brat Pack feature. However, director Howard Deutch handled his script well enough to land a charming debut feature about attraction across social class divide.
The film starts literally across the railroad tracks as we see the environment that protagonist Andie (Molly Ringwald) lives in. Despite the drab, lower-income neighborhood she lives in, she’s a bright spot on the screen. With a wide smile and quirky dress style, one might think at first, she’s a star of her school. However, she’s an outcast along with her long-time friend Duckie (Jon Cryer), who’s the embodiment of spirited eccentricity. He has a crush on Andie, which will come to a head, when Andie realizes that Blane (Andrew McCarthy), one of the wealthy, popular students, has an interest in her. And for the first time, she opens herself up to love with a person who wouldn’t normally pay her attention.
There’s nothing truly out of ordinary for this story. Like Romeo and Juliet, and the stories that preceded and came after, it’s a love-across-the-divide story. Friends from both of their cliques don’t think that they should belong together. Plus, they have to deal with their own insecurities. What differentiates it from some of the other stories about teens is the strong characterization. These people don’t feel like stereotypes but as individuals with their own motivations.
While Ringwald’s definitely the star and gives a more mature performance than in her previous John Hughes work (though those should be praised for their honesty in expressing teen emotions), a spotlight should be shone particularly on the actors who portray her supportive father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton) and her antagonistic, snobbish classmate Steff (James Spader).
Stanton shows a vulnerability as a depressed single father who is still hopeful for the return of the wife that left their family. Still, he rouses himself to offer simple wisdom to his daughter. He is also humble enough to eventually face the facts set before him by Andie after an initial breakdown at the reality of his non-reconciliation with his wife.
As Steff is the antagonist and the most accomplished actor besides Stanton, I find Spader’s performance the most interesting. Yes, he’s a bully, but he’s not as one-dimensional as seen on the surface. Spader is antagonistic more because she continually rejects his interest rather than just because he hates poor girls. The close-ups of their tense stare-downs are some of the top images. Looking at his interaction with wealthy girlfriend, one can sense that he knows she’s vapid. He shows less respect for her than for Andie though he won’t admit it. The fact is that Andie can see through his materialism and see his lack of character. She still isn’t willing in the end to lump all the “richies” as the same by reaching out to Blane. This drives Steff crazy.
Where there might be some disagreement with popular opinion is on the character of Duckie. Sorry, I’m not part of the Duckie fan club. I don’t entirely fault the performance of Jon Cryer. He was likely following the script and the direction. However, I’ve come to find his behavior as less endearing than obnoxious. It’s obvious that Andie cares for him as friend. It seems though that Duckie is trying to be more pressing than wooing. If they got together in the end, it would seem like he broke her down. Not that she discovered some new charm that turned friendship into romance. It’s my opinion why the original ending should’ve been scuttled and Deutch shouldn’t feel bad about current ending. Though his unhappiness did give us another classic teen movie.
Blane acts bland compared to the other characters, but that’s not too harmful to the acting. He has more personality than Ringwald’s romantic interest in Sixteen Candles. He just serves as the mysterious, nice, but somewhat aloof-looking guy that many teen girls long for. It also doesn’t hurt that he has some bucks.
What most people consider as the true star of Pretty in Pink is the soundtrack. Instead of relying on safe Top 40 hits of 1985, it showcased then-less known new wave, synth-pop, and alternative artists. We get New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, and The Psychedelic Furs of the title song, among others. The music fits the scene and puts you in the minds and hearts of the teenager of the mid-80s. Though decades from that time, the music is still great. It’ll cause you to want to delve deeper into the 80s music scene beyond the more popularized artists.
Pretty in Pink is a wonderful snapshot of an era and a group of actors that were at their prime across a number of films for a brief window of time. I like the zany aspects of Hughes’s writing. However, it’s nice to view a story stripped back to earnest romantic drama, even if it’s just youthful crushes. Deutch molded the given material into a film that breathes the 80s but can exist without irony outside the decade.