Pretty in Pink

(USA 1986)

Being a full-fledged child of the Eighties—I entered the decade at 9 years old and came out of it at 19—John Hughes spoke to me. Naturally, his teen movies (before he started aiming for Millennials with drivel like Home Alone and Curly Sue) hold a special place in my heart. It seems strange then that even though I played the soundtrack so many times I had to replace it twice, I never saw Pretty in Pink from start to finish. So, when a theater near me screened it to commemorate the 30th anniversary, I thought, “fuckin’ A, why not?”

Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) is a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Her mother abandoned her and her father (Harry Dean Stanton), who’s lost in sorrow because of it. Andie attends an apparently elite high school mainly for “richies”—poor girl slang for “rich kids.” Prom is looming, and no one has asked Andie, something she laments to her boss (Annie Potts) at the record store where she works. One of the aforementioned “richies”—Blane (Andrew McCarthy)—suddenly takes an interest in Andie, sparking jealousy and resistance from Duckie (John Cryer), Andie’s buddy since childhood, and Steff (James Spader), Blane’s best friend. Things get ugly when Blane asks Andie to be his date to the prom—uglier than that homemade dress she wears to it.

Hughes went for something a little more dramatic and maybe mature than what he had done up to this point. Nice try, but no cigar: Pretty in Pink doesn’t totally suck, but it’s not one of his better movies. The acting is good, particularly the scenes with Ringwald and Potts. However, the plot—poor girl meets rich boy—was a cliché even at the time. Hughes himself explored the idea of class and social hierarchy many times before in more interesting and thoughtful ways. The writing lacks the punch of, say, Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. The characters, even Duckie, are colorful but hollow compared to other Hughes films. I found it hard to relate to any of them. Even the alternate ending—Andie ends up with Duckie—is no improvement.

Perhaps its worst flaw is that Pretty in Pink is not one bit fun—it lacks the wit that marks a John Hughes films from this period. The subject matter is heavy, and there’s too much going on that weighs down the story—the business, for example, with Andie’s missing mother and having to coach her father back into reality coupled with the hate she and Blane face from their respective friends give Pretty in Pink a dour vibe. There’s a palpable cynicism that doesn’t work because it comes off as bitter. On top of that, there’s far less comic relief from the sidelines—Potts does her job here, but Cryer is more annoying than funny. Sure, there are some nice moments and a few good lines, but that’s it. Hughes hadn’t lost his touch—Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out later the same year—but Pretty in Pink is a drag.

All that said, no movie from the Eighties is complete without a soundtrack—and Pretty in Pink was a great one. When my music vocabulary was culled from pop radio and MTV, it introduced me to stuff I otherwise would have missed. I still listen to it today; in fact, I’m going to put it on now.

(AMC River East) C-

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