First released in the cinemas this weekend in 1986, has John Hughes’ film aged like an 80s prom photo? Taylor Glenn took a look.
What and why: The John Hughes classic Pretty in Pink turns 30 this year, and if that wasn’t enough to make me feel really old, I can remember modelling a good part of my wardrobe on cool-misfit Andie’s back in the day (minus the ill-judged Frankensewn prom dress everyone likes to reference).
I’m still a little sad I lost my favourite “solo dangling” earring. I longed for a retro pink car for years, too, but settled on a purple Ford Taurus station wagon I inherited from my mother.
Not only was Pretty in Pink my favourite John Hughes film, but it was one of my favourite films EVER. Molly Ringwald’s portrayal of the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who falls in love with a “richie” had a big impact on me, for she was one of the first movie ‘outcasts’ who was both teased but unmistakably cool and confident about herself.
I liked to think that if I, too, had had red hair I’d have been just like Andie. (OK, so I tried dyeing my hair red for a while too. It didn’t look at all Ringwald, especially paired with the purple Taurus wagon).
Rated or dated: The worst part of revisiting any film which has shaped your adolescence is the prospect of it being a total sham; a trite or even offensive shambles of a movie which makes you feel a bit sick to watch (why, Sixteen Candles, why? WHY?) But from the opening scenes with the street sweeper and the first few notes of the Psychedelic Furs’ Pretty in Pink (still a top tune) I knew I had nothing to fear.
“Andie and Duckie live in a different world from the “richies.” They are the working-class kids, destined to stand out, and not in a good way.”
Sure, it’s got some uncomfortable flaws. But the film’s strong points sweep those out of the way like that street sweeper. Gosh I love that street sweeper.
Jon Cryer’s Duckie spins out some gross lines at the top of the film, i.e. he runs into two girls in the hallway and quips he could work out a deal where “one or both of them could be pregnant by the holidays.” Classy.
They slug him, but we’re supposed to consider him a cute l’il rascal. Instead, it sets off a chain of mixed messages with Duckie: on one hand, he’s like a sweet, loyal dog (Hughes makes a point of showing Andie already has one of these, though, as well as a single father who’s more like a troubled teen she needs to look after).
On the other, he’s clingy and stalkery, circling around her house and trying to prevent her from seeing Blaine, the wealthy and blinky guy who’s somehow able to send Andie high-tech messages on the computer even though it’s 1986 and there was only MS-DOS.
Duckie’s resistance holds a deeper message than just jealousy, however, and this is where the film really shines: Andie and Duckie live in a different world from the “richies.” They are the working-class kids, destined to stand out, and not in a good way. Andie is taunted by preppy girls in the middle of a history class where she’s learning about FDR and the New Deal; Duckie is beaten up a few times and none of the teachers seem to care. They’re misfits who find solace in each another.
Andie is no pushover – she stands up for herself, keeping her cool but trying to fight the injustice with the biased principal who tells her, “If you send the message you don’t belong, the others will believe you don’t.” “That’s a beautiful theory,” Andie deadpans back.
Andie’s other friendly sidekick, Iona, who’s played brilliantly by Annie Potts, is an older, free-spirited character who is a style chameleon and misfit in her own right. She’s bold and sharp-tongued, offering Andie advice about life and love (“I don’t think Mr Wonderful is gonna happen tonight. Don’t waste good lip gloss.”) but is still searching for her own identity as well, as evidenced by her constant image changes and admission to bad dates.
She’s the woman Andie relies on but also another adult who shows how solid Andie is within herself – it’s her surroundings, and the injustice of them, which rattle her. Andie knows who she is and you believe she’s going to be fine as soon as she gets the hell out of Dodge.
Now, to Blaine, the prepster Andie falls for. I remember back in the day having a crush on Blaine, which now amuses me, because Andrew McCarthy’s main acting technique seems to be making his voice high-pitched and blinking a lot. I mean a lot. Seriously, it’s a phenomenon.
Blaine is a good guy, who happens to be rich and best friends with Steff, the film’s main asshole, played to perfection by James Spader.
“Andrew McCarthy is wearing a pretty shitty wig at the last scene, because he had shaved his head for another role.”
Steff is the callous, jaded yin to Blaine’s blinky, idealistic yang. And he’s got a secret: he too is in love with Andie, and he takes out his rejection by being a complete dick to her and trying to convince Blaine he’s “got a hard-on for trash.” It’s a storyline which still resonates for me, right down to Spader’s stoned stares in Andie’s direction.
If there’s one main flaw about the film for me, it’s that Blaine is a little bland. He’s nice, he wants to rise above their backgrounds and make a go of it with Andie, but really, there’s not a ton to him. Maybe that’s why he blinks so much. In an ideal movie, I feel like Duckie would be a little less annoying and leechy, and we’d cheer for Andie to end up with him instead of Blaine.
So strap up, cowboys and girls, here’s a fun film fact: John Hughes DID pen an ending where Duckie and Andie wind up together, and Duckie was meant to be played by Robert Downey Jr. And the ending was supposed to be the two of them dancing together at the prom, to David Bowie’s Heroes. Chew on that for a moment, Hughes fans. Pretty in Pink may never be the same again now you know that.
Hughes shot the written ending with Jon Cryer, but test audiences just wouldn’t buy it. They didn’t find Duckie appealing enough and wanted Andie to end up with Blaine, so they reshot the whole ending.
If you watch you’ll note Andrew McCarthy is wearing a pretty shitty wig at the last scene, because he had shaved his head for another role. And he also delivers a line which doesn’t make too much sense to Andie “I always believed in you. You just didn’t believe in me.” Um, yes she did, dickhead. You blew her off at the prom and now she’s sewn together a dress which looks like a dare.
Never mind these petty details. Pretty in Pink still stands the test of time, especially compared to a lot of films of its era. Its central character is strong, interesting and self-assured. She’s a feminist in a time of erratic feminism. She’s a redhead who can wear pink and vintage and drives a radically cool car. She kisses like a fiend. The film is about her, and it’s still sitting pretty in my eyes. RATED.4418 Views
Taylor is an American comedian, writer, and former psychotherapist based in London. She has a two-year-old and a dead basil plant.