Pretty in Pink (1986, Howard Deutch)

pretty-in-pink-prom

Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Teenager Andie Walsh starts dating a boy at her school – but he’s from a richer clique, and friends on both sides of the social divide object to the relationship…

Kids:

* Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) is a high-school senior from a single-parent, working-class family. Before she appears, some literal-minded direction tells us about her situation: we’re shown that her house is actually on the wrong side of the tracks. Andie chivvies along her layabout father; makes her own outfits to save money; and works part-time at a record shop. (Despite being poor, she still has her own car!) Her best friend, Duckie, is unashamedly in love with her. Because she’s not a ‘richie’, Andie is teased at school by the well-off kids. However, one of them, Blaine, has taken a shine to her so starts flirting. Andie’s torn because he’s rich. But the next day in the school library, Blaine starts IM’ing her (well, the 1986 version of instant messaging) and she’s smitten. Blaine even ventures into the poor kids’ section of the school campus and asks her out – but then makes the mistake of taking her to his rich friend’s house party, where she’s far from welcome. She then takes him to her local hangout, but they bump into Duckie, who’s jealous and bitter about Andie’s new relationship. The night then gets worse when she has to admit to Blaine that she doesn’t want him to see where she lives. Rather than be offended, he drives her home, kisses her and asks her to the school prom. But over the next few days, under pressure from his friend Steff, Blaine blows cold and avoids Andie, leaving her upset. So she confronts him and he admits that he can’t take her to the prom after all: he lies that he’d already asked someone else. After a pep talk from pal Iona, Andie makes herself a new dress and goes to the do alone. At the school entrance, she sees Duckie and the two friends reconcile. And when she realises that Blaine has also come alone, Andie gives him another chance and they kiss… The ending as originally filmed had Andie choose Duckie over Blaine. But test audiences reacted badly, so the cast were recalled and a new sequence cooked up. My heart says she should have picked Duckie, but my head tells me the Blaine ending is better. Pretty in Pink was Ringwald’s third and final John Hughes character – in fact, he wrote it specifically for her. The fact that all are believable and feel different is a real credit to the actress.

* Blaine McDonough (Andrew McCarthy) shows up at Andie’s place of work and buys a random record as an excuse to talk to her. His pal Steff objects to him dating a working-class girl, so puts pressure on him to use her and lose her. Blaine has a wobble and actually dumps Andie (boo), but eventually tells Steff to fuck off (yay). By the time of the happy-ending reshoot, Andrew McCarthy had cut off his hair for another role. So sadly Blaine sports a terrible wig for the film’s final few minutes.

* Phil ‘Duckie’ Dale (Jon Cryer) is Andie’s best friend. He’s not-so-secretly in love with her, though tries to hide his affection behind humour. At one point, he even has a chat with Andie’s dad to assure him of his honourable intentions. Duckie’s smart and quick-witted, but is deliberately failing his classes in order to avoid leaving high school. He’s deeply hurt when Andie starts seeing Blaine and lashes out at her; he later kisses their friend Iona to try to make Andie jealous. But after overhearing Steff slagging off Andie, Duckie physically attacks him. At the end, he patches things up with Andie as they both attend the prom dateless, and Duckie advises her to give Blaine another go. The film then gives him a reward for his sacrifice: he pulls a gorgeous girl. In some ways, the character is a slightly older version of the Geek from Sixteen Candles. Hughes and Deutch originally wanted Anthony Michael Hall to play the role, but he turned it down as he feared being typecast. Robert Downey Jr, who’d just been in Weird Science, was also considered before Cryer was cast.

* Benny Hanson (Kate Vernon) is a rich bully in Andie’s classes. She’s dating Steff. Like most of the students at the school, she looks about 30.

* Jenna (Alexa Kenin) is Andie’s pal at school who delights in returning Benny’s bad attitude (“I hope they shrivel up and fall off…”).

* Steff McKee (James Spader) is Blaine’s best pal, and is a total cunt. After Andie makes it clear she doesn’t like him, Steff turns nasty and counsels Blaine to stay away from her. James Spader gives a performance of prime sleazeball: white Miami Vice jacket, open shirt, no socks, droopy cigarette, languid eyes, slutty girlfriend, the works.

* Simon (Dweezil Zappa) is a pal of Andie and Jenna’s. In his scene at the nightclub, he’s more interested in the band than listening to the girls.

* Benny has a couple of different partners-in-bitchiness, one of whom is played by Gina Gershon.

* A girl at the prom (Kristy Swanson, who was later the original Buffy Summers) is credited as ‘Duckette’ because she smiles at Duckie and nods approvingly. After checking that she means what he thinks she means, he looks conspiratorially at the camera then moves in.

Adults:

* Jack Walsh (Harry Dean Stanton) is Andie’s father, who’s been in a rut ever since her mother walked out on the family. He’s unemployed and, in a self-destructive kind of way, reluctant to get a job. When he finds out Andie is going to her prom, he buys her a garish pink dress. She’s polite about the pattern, but then rumbles that he’s been lying about a new job.

* Iona (Annie Potts) works at – and possibly owns? – Trax, the music store where Andie has a part-time job. A confident if lonely woman in her 30s, she has a post-punk style of dress. She acts as Andie’s surrogate mother figure and is her closest female friend. At one point, Duckie suddenly kisses Iona as a way of provoking Andie (Iona has to admit that she likes it). There’s a sense of her living her life vicariously through Andie – she’s pleased as punch when Andie gets asked to the prom, but the news propels Iona into a nostalgic mood for her 1960s youth. She later starts dating a pet-shop owner (“Amongst other things”) called Terrence and begins dressing more conventionally. Well, conventionally for 1986: she looks like she’s in Ashes to Ashes. Anjelica Huston was offered the part but turned it down. Potts got the job off her terrific appearance in Ghostbusters.

* The bouncer at nightclub Cats (Andrew Dice Clay) never lets Duckie in. It’s not clear why. When he asks Duckie why he keeps coming if Andie can get in and he can’t, Duckie is stumped.

Close-ups: Although not directed by John Hughes – he wrote and executive produced – the house style of close-up montages is continued. Andie is introduced with a series of tight shots of her getting dressed and making herself up. She’s becoming pretty in pink before our eyes.

Music: This is one of the great 1980s movie soundtracks. The title song had been a 1981 single by Psychedelic Furs; the version used in the film is actually a new, more polished recording. A couple of scenes are set in a local nightclub with a local band playing. Duckie lip-syncs and dances to Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness in order to impress Andie. (Sadly for Duckie, Andie’s more interested in her imminent date with Blaine.) Three terrific New Order tracks – Shellshock, Thieves Like Us and Elegia – are used as score. OMD wrote If You Leave in 24 hours specifically for the reshot ending.

Beatles references: Duckie sings a bit of John Lennon song Love.

Smiths references: It seems Hughes and his team had a new favourite band. In Trax, the sign for the Smiths section of the LP racks is prominently shown. The nearby storeroom door has a giant poster of the band on it. And Duckie later listens to Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want while feeling maudlin.

Review: “Blaine?! His name is Blaine? That’s a major appliance, that’s not a name!” Superficially similar to Sixteen Candles, this film actually has a different feel about it. It’s John Hughes does romcom, with the class divide as the prime obstacle in the lovers’ way. The change of tone is largely down to the direction. Hughes hired Howard Deutch to direct his latest script, and he has a much more observational style: looser, calmer, less comic. It’s hard to imagine John Hughes the director using a long handheld take as Andie and Blaine walk down a busy street (or for that matter, allowing a performance as rambling and untamed as Harry Dean Stanton’s!). Aside from one knowing look to camera, there’s none of the slapstick style from earlier Hughes movies. But this actually suits Pretty in Pink’s more-soppy story, which while basic and predictable is enormous fun. Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye…

Nine Warsaw Pacts out of 10

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