Review: Pretty in Pink
Molly Ringwald plays Andie, a poor-ish high school senior being raised by her ne’er-do-well single father (Harry Dean Stanton). Andie’s best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) would clearly love to get out of the Friend Zone, but Andie gets swooped up by rich kid Blaine (Andrew McCarthy). Blaine’s snooty friends don’t approve, but he doesn’t care…or so he says. James Spader (too old for high school, but who the hell cares?) plays slimy rich prick Steff, an acquaintance of Blaine’s who is also fond of making crude advances towards Andie on the sly. Annie Potts plays Andie’s unofficial female role model, her boss/mentor Iona.
I like this 1986 Howard Deutch-directed, John Hughes-scripted movie just fine, but being male I probably identify more with “Some Kind of Wonderful”, which is the same concept from the same director-writer team, but with a male protagonist instead of female. Truth be told I’m more partial to Lea Thompson, Mary Stuart Masterson and Eric Stoltz, than I am Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer, and Molly Ringwald, so that doesn’t help this film, either. Still, it’s a nice, sweet, and solid film and I do like it. I’m not sure it’s possible to dislike it, probably because it’s a story that worked even better a year later. This isn’t my favourite 80s film, but I’ll say this for it: It’s easily a Top 5 Quintessentially 80s movie along with “The Breakfast Club”, “Top Gun”, “Rocky IV”, and “Flashdance”. Seriously, whatever you may think of those films individually (I only love one of them, “The Breakfast Club”, written and directed by John Hughes) I defy you to come up with a more fitting Top 5 typifying the 80s. It had been forever since I last saw this one, and I must say it was better than I remembered, even if I do prefer “Sixteen Candles” and the aforementioned “Some Kind of Wonderful”.
I really like the idea of Molly Ringwald’s lower-class character here, but there’s a few things that get in the way of me gravitating towards her. For starters, I don’t find Molly Ringwald an especially sympathetic presence on screen and the only time I have is when she played the prissy rich, popular girl in “The Breakfast Club”. This role is just not a good fit for her when she was so perfectly cast in that one. She’s OK, but you never quite buy her slightly nerdy, insecure poor girl act I don’t think. The worst thing though, is that the character’s treatment of best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) is abysmal. Duckie has every right to give Ringwald’s Andie serious shit. It’s obvious from moment one how he feels about her, she knows it and never gets firm with him. Why? Because he makes her feel good about herself and she’s a shitty friend. That’s a big part of the reason why I prefer “Some Kind of Wonderful”, as Eric Stoltz was far more sympathetic and oblivious to Mary Stuart Masterson’s feelings for much of the film. Duckie ain’t subtle about it. Duckie ain’t subtle about anything. So while Ringwald is OK, she’s not as charismatic as John Hughes seemed to think, and it’s hard to really sympathise with her.
Amazingly for a film with a slightly shitty lead character, the film still entertains. That’s mostly due to the rest of the cast and the fairly relatable premise. It’s pretty clear that the film ends up getting stolen by a trio of supporting actors, maybe four if you include the always wonderful Harry Dean Stanton as Ringwald’s loving, ne’er-do-well father. He’s awesome, and shows sides to himself he has otherwise been rarely afforded as a character actor. Jon Cryer has his one and only memorable role here as the inimitable Duckie. He’s a total dork and has a smart mouth that should really find itself getting the rest of him in serious, violent trouble. However, it’s hard not to sympathise with the admiring best friend who wants to be more. It’s not remotely believable, but his turn of fortune at the prom is priceless. ***** SPOILER ALERT ****** At the climax of the film, the lucky duck scores himself a future Vampire Slayer, AKA Kristy Swanson, in a cameo role the same year she appeared briefly in Hughes’ iconic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. ***** END SPOILER ***** The eccentric Annie Potts, meanwhile has one of her best roles as Andie’s sorta sage advisor/boss with her own…interesting sense of fashion. She steals her every scene. I think James Spader might just come out on top in this one, though. Playing an astoundingly oily character so very well, you start to suspect that Spader might know this character to its very core. Spader’s the one person here who is a little…dangerous. Edgy, in an otherwise typical 80s teen romance flick. That’s always been the way with Spader though, despite being a very versatile and talented actor. There’s always something seedy, even kinky about him.
As for Andrew McCarthy, he plays a guy named Blaine. Good for him. In all seriousness, he always came across to me as the least interesting member of the ‘Brat Pack’ collective, if you even want to lump him in there. Apparently I’m wrong, though. Apparently McCarthy and Blaine are sooooo sensitive. I think he’s sooooo boring and was better in “St. Elmo’s Fire”, mostly because he was playing a fairly sympathetic character there. Here he’s playing a spineless rich kid, and plays him with the only two expressions he knows: Eyes open and eyes really, really open. Just ask Jay Mohr, who brilliantly impersonated him on “SNL” (His other good impersonation aside from the infamous Christopher Walken impersonation everyone knows and loves). ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** Given that even Jon Cryer himself openly admits (albeit jokingly) that he’s an effeminate heterosexual man, I can understand why test audiences rejected the ‘Duckie wins Andie’s heart’ ending to an extent, but I’m not sure the right guy does get her in the end, either. To be honest, while I don’t have much sympathy for Ringwald’s character here, McCarthy’s Blaine doesn’t deserve to get the girl, not even this girl. He’s a cowardly preppy little weasel who doesn’t even have the balls to admit he’s a bit of a wimp. ***** END SPOILER *****
On the plus side, this film does have a pretty killer soundtrack including Nik Kershaw’s popular ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’, as well as songs by INXS, The Smiths, New Order, and even Otis Reddings’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’. Those who like to spot familiar actors/stars when they were young will enjoy seeing Gina Gershon looking almost exactly the same in 1986 as she would in 1996, Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay perfectly cast as a doorman named Dice, and “Independence Day” actress Margaret Colin as a teacher.
It’s not close to being my favourite 80s movie, nor my favourite John Hughes movie. However, beyond the not-so likeable leads, there’s some really enjoyable supporting performances and in spite of it all, the premise is still hard to resist. John Hughes was very, very perceptive when it came to teenagers, so a lot of the film still manages to work. This is such a lovely movie, really but “Some Kind of Wonderful” did it better, including the ending.