Isn’t She Pretty in Pink
by Robert Mishou
We are all, unfortunately, becoming way too used to the phrase “30th anniversary of . . .” Anything that was released in 1986 is now thirty years old! As much as this hurts, it also makes me happy to know that I grew up in a decade that was iconic enough to have the public take note when movies, television shows, or music released during the decade has an “anniversary.” DO NOT go and look at a list of what was released in 1986 – don’t! It’s just too depressing.
In February of 1986, Molly Ringwald teamed up again with John Hughes for a new movie, Pretty in Pink. This is the fourth of five Hughes films that ruled the decade. I was in the second half of my junior in high school, but already thinking of being a senior and trying to decide what to do after that.
Because I lived on an Army base in Germany, my friends and I had to wait for new releases to make it to the military movie theaters. The movies typically arrived a few months after U.S. release, but typically beat VHS release. About the time school was finishing that Spring, we hit the Idle Hour movie theatre eager to see Pretty in Pink. My two best friends and I were huge Hughes fans. We loved Sixteen Candles – were blown away with The Breakfast Club – and tolerated Ferris Buller’s Day Off. We felt extremely confident that Pretty in Pink would not disappoint.
It did not! I was immediately drawn into the class conflict that the film centers around. In a different way, we were faced with a similar situation. We were NCO (non commissioned officers) kids and had a negative view a many Officer’s kids. We thought that they got everything because their fathers were higher rank than ours were. So seeing Andie’s and Duckie’s struggle with Steff and Blane because of economics really resonated with us. That aside, I was a little in love with Molly Ringwald and any character she played was fine by me. I remember the story being a straight-forward love story with cool ancillary characters and an ending that I felt was “as it should be” – Andie is able to make Blane overcome the socio economic pressures persuading him to not like her and they WILL live happily ever after.
As much as I enjoyed the movie, the soundtrack is what I remember the most. There is no hyperbole in saying that it was, by far, my favorite soundtrack of the ‘80s. I am still a bit surprised because my typical music choices tend to bit more guitar based rock. I loved this soundtrack so much that I am going to stop talking about it and so a completely separate article on it (I’ll start it as soon as this Hughes series is complete).
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – I still really enjoy this movie! The one thing that jumped out at me on this viewing was the cast. Pretty in Pink was not the last stop for any of these actors. I am not saying that everything they did after this movie was great, but they were working! Some continued with the almost adult characters like Andrew McCarthy and James Spader in Less Than Zero and Jon Cryer in Hiding Out. Molly Ringwald has been able to take a variety of roles in television and movies including a small part in Not Another Teen Movie, poking a little fun a the films that made her famous. Pretty in Pink is not an end to any of their careers, in fact, all of them continue to grow as performers and play better roles showing that Pretty in Pink cannot be considered a climax to any of their careers.
The opening sequences immediately reminds me of how great the music is. The Psychedelic Furs belt out “Pretty in Pink” right away as the camera pans across the lower economic part of town across the tracks – it literally shows train tracks – where Andie lives. This sets up the film length conflict and the source for most of the characters’ angst. The two groups of people, rich and poor, fill the screen in nearly all of the opening scenes. Either through visuals, costumes, or settings, the struggle between the haves and the have nots is readily apparent. The house that Andie lives in with her father, who she is desperately trying to get out of bed and to a job interview, is quickly followed by an uncomfortable classroom scene where a few of the rich girls cruelly criticize Andie’s clothing choice. The American history teacher notices the discord and justifiably punishes the wealthy instigators. The conflict intensifies when Andi denies the problem and asks for the punishment to be removed. The snotty girls smugly accept the punishment, making Andie feel worthless in the eyes of the rich – not for the last time. Hughes really hits us over the head with the importance of these social classes by bouncing between rich and poor sub-settings. These quick changes helps us “feel” the division among the characters and heightens the effect of the relationship that we know is coming between Andie and Blane.
This is the crux of the film, isn’t it? Relationships. Duckie is in love with Andie. Steff and Blane are having a falling out. Andie and Blane fall for each other. It is these relationships that drawn us in – that we connect to and that keep us going.
Andie and Duckie: Many of you have read that the original script had Duckie showing up at prom to save Andie and she chooses him. While this would be a perfect ending for Duckie, test audiences didn’t like it, so it was changed and the ending became what we know know it is, Andie and Blane overcoming their differences and getting together. While I feel for Duckie and even relate to him a bit, I now find his schtick a bit annoying. I admire his persistence and think the scene with the bouncer (played by Andrew Dice Clay) not letting him into the club is funny and played in a natural and believable manner by both actors. Despite this, I think his antics do border on stalking. We have all pined for someone, most of us for someone who was unattainable, but there is no great reason for Andie to choose Duckie. She is an intelligent young woman who is going to get an education and work her way out of the financial wasteland that her father has never been able to imagine a way out of. As harsh as it is, Duckie is a dead end for her. Yes, they are best friends, but she cannot spend the rest of her life with him and expect to change her situation. One evening she is helping Duckie study for a test. Andie is explaining the Warsaw pact to an completely uninterested Duckie. As he is dancing in her mirror, she reads his answer: “The Warsaw Pact is a pact that is named after Warsaw.” He is unconcerned; he takes this whole thing as a joke. Andie throws a little psychology at him and suggests he is failing his classes on purpose so he does not have to face the future. Duckie becomes defensive – but it is true, Duckie cannot imagine a world without Andie, but knows it is going to end soon and there is little he can do about it. Duckie is in a difficult situation, but he is not facing it nor is he trying to find a viable solution. Andie cannot be with him as a serious boyfriend. But, man, do I admire him taking on Steff at school after he overhears him in the stairwell with Blane.
Blane and Steff: As much as we like Blane, we hate Steff. We admire Blane for trying to break away from his pretentious, rich friends and find his liking of Andie sincere. It is all of this potential in Blane that make Steff his antithesis and the antagonist of this film. Steff’s hypocrisy is clear when he, once again, hits on Andie and, when refused, says, “You bitch.” Steff even confronts Blane at school over his liking Andie. During their uncomfortable first date, Blane takes Andie to a party at Steff’s. Expectedly, Andie receives condescending looks from most of the “richies” and feels out of place. To escape the stares, Blane innocently takes Andie to an upstairs bedroom. Unfortunately, there is a drunk Steff and Benny in the room. Benny, who is slyly nasty to Andie earlier in history class and P.E., is now openly hostile to Andie and to Blane for having Andie with him at the party. Later, while doing cocaine, Steff confronts Blane about this:
Steff: I thought that was very uncool of you last night, Blane.
Blane: Do you mean Andie?
Steff: I mean Andie.
Blane: What’s the big deal? I like her. As a matter of fact, I was pissed off at you guys
for being so nasty to her.
Steff: It was way out of order for you to foist her on the party . . . What do I have to spell it out for you, Blane? Nobody appreciates your sense of humor. As a matter of fact, everyone is about to puke from it. If you got a hard on for trash, don’t take care of it around us, pal.
This from your best friend! We have no problem with Blane leaving Steff and this crowd behind; we only wonder what took so long. Once again, props to Duckie for laying a few punches on Steff!
Andie and Blane: There is no reason for these two to be together. They are from different sides of the track, have different friends, and have little in common. Blane is brave enough to step beyond the confines of expectations of his rich friends and ask Andie out on a date. His best friend, Steff, notices his behavior and calls him on it when he sees him coming in from the ‘other’ side. He is taking offense at Blane wanting to go outside of his kind and be with Andie (who has repeatedly rebuked his advances). Blane is well aware of what his friends will think and receives harsh treatment from Duckie as well while they are all at the club. I, like most of you, was upset with Blane when he seemingly succumbed to the pressure and lied to Andie about having another prom date. The economic differences are between Blane and Andie are clear and constantly compounded, and it is because of these stark differences that we pull for them – not unlike we pull for Romeo and Juliet. Just because a love is forbidden or unaccepted does not mean it cannot, or should not happen. Neither side accepts those from the other side: the rich do not like the poor and have unfounded biases towards them AND the poor do not accept the rich and have unfounded biases toward them. Clearly, both sides are unbudging and short sighted. This is the very reason that we want Andie and Blane to work. We know that most of the characters around these two are self centered, egotistical, and difficult to like. This lack of likable characters only heightens our desire to see Andie and Blane conquer the prejudices and find a way to get together and stay together. We are just as happy when Andie kisses Blane for the first time after he asks her to the prom as we are when Sam kisses Jake over the birthday cake he made her. In short, we want them to work and believe they can work.
The ancillary characters are perfect in this movie. The music is outstanding. The conflict is real. Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, and Jon Cryer are excellent. I love his movie.
Pretty in Pink may not be the perfect movie and I like The Breakfast Club better, but it owns a rightful spot in the canon of ‘80s films. The class struggle is a bit overdone, but it is real and still exists in many towns and high schools today. I am not sure that American society will even honestly be able to move past these economic class structures. The pressures placed by both sides on members of their own group are difficult to overcome, but they can be conquered. It is this belief that love can overcome such profound obstacles that keeps us going – it keeps us going to the movies – it keeps us reading the books and plays – it keeps us believing that love can overcome any petty obstacle that it encounters. Pretty in Pink left me with positive (and a bit Romanticized) memories of my past. I still really like this installment of the Hughes canon.
Next, one left, Some Kind of Wonderful.