Directed By: Howard Deutch
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Harry Dean Stanton
Tag line: "He's good. She's good. He's just Duckie"
Trivia: This was filmed in the same L.A. high school where Grease was made
For decades, movies have been exploring the sometimes explosive topic of teen romance, from the ‘50s and ‘60s (Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story) right up to today (the highly underrated The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a prime example). Yet nobody had a better grasp on the subject than writer / director John Hughes, whose handful of offerings in the 1980s (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club) presented the teenage experience in a way that no movie had before them, and his 1986 film Pretty in Pink is certainly no exception.
High school senior Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) is a bright student, but because she lives with her single father, Jack (Harry Dean Stanton), in a poor area of town, she’ll never be accepted by her peers, most of whom reside in wealthy neighborhoods. In fact, Andie isn’t even sure if she’s going to her prom (mainly because nobody’s asked her yet). Of course, if all else fails, she could go with her pal Duckie (Jon Cryer), who has secretly loved Andie since they were kids, but Andie is holding out for “Mr. Right”, who she hopes will come along and sweep her off her feet. And to her surprise, that’s exactly what happens! Her personal Prince Charming, Blaine McDonagh (Andrew McCarthy), has been watching her for weeks, and even stops by the record shop where she works with her good friend Iona (Annie Potts) to get to know Andie better. At first, Blaine, whose parents are rich, doesn’t care that Andie is from “the wrong side of the tracks”, but as their relationship grows, his friends, including best pal Steff (James Spader), remind Blaine that Andie isn’t “one of them”, and pressure him to break things off with her. Will the two live happily ever after, or will their differences prove too much for them to overcome?
While he himself didn’t direct the movie (turning the reins over to Howard Deutch), every scene in Pretty in Pink bears John Hughes’ unmistakable brand, every character the depth of emotion that would become his trademark. Molly Ringwald continued her string of fine performances for the writer / director with her heartfelt turn as Andie, a girl whose shattered home life has matured her beyond her years (her father, still reeling from his wife’s abandonment, seems content to let the world pass him by). More than any of her friends, she understands the social divide that separates the students at her school, which is dominated by kids from well-off families. Yet even she can be naïve when it comes to her rich classmates. While driving through a posh neighborhood, she tells Duckie she’d love to see the inside of one of the humongous homes lining the street, only to be disappointed by the experience when Blaine drags her to a party hosted by Steff, and everyone's acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.
The guys of Pretty in Pink are every bit as interesting as its female lead. Andrew McCarthy’s Blaine is a genuinely decent guy who, at first, doesn’t care that Andie travels in different circles, yet the pressure put on him by his so-called pal Steff (whose hostility towards Andie stems more from her rejecting his advances early in the film than it does her “inferior” social standing) becomes too much for him to bear, causing Blaine to make some very unfortunate choices. Even more fascinating is Jon Cryer’s Duckie, a geeky hipster who has been Andie’s friend through thick and thin, loving her from afar, yet longing to take their relationship to the next level. As far as Duckie is concerned, he’s managed to keep his true feelings for Andie hidden away, but despite his efforts, it’s obvious she knows how much he cares for her; fearing his reaction, Andie doesn’t tell him about her first date with Blaine until the last possible minute (the fact that this shocking revelation immediately follows Duckie’s best scene, where he dances around the record shop lip-synching to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”, makes it all the more heartbreaking). The scenes between Andie and Duckie are among the films finest, and give Pretty in Pink its emotional backbone.
I’ve always had an issue (albeit a slight one) with the way the movie ends, a finale that, when considering all that went before it, was too “neat” for my tastes (it turns out Hughes himself had a different ending in mind, which was changed when test audiences disapproved). That aside, Pretty in Pink stands as a shining example of an ‘80s teen film, as told by a man who clearly understood the youngsters of that particular generation.