We're almost to the 30th anniversary of the birth of the '80s. I don't even understand the complexity of that thought, but I know it means it's time to suck bills from that dwindling roll in the pocket of countless bleary 40-somethings. Yes, John Hughes will soon be making a comeback, and we can all reminisce about why we thought Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer were so adorable. Yes, Pretty In Pink is being reissued, with all the lovely high-school anxieties you can handle.
Hugably aloof misfit Andie (Molly Ringwald) can neither fit in at her preppy highschool (even though there seem to be dozens of her ilk there) nor find true love. Her adorably alcoholic dad (Harry Dean Stanton) needs more parenting than Andie, and her cutsie stalker wanna-be boyfriend Duckie (Jon Cryer) won't let her alone. What she really needs is a filthy-rich boyfriend to set things right. Inside this teen soap opera from the man-of-the-'80s (Writer/ producer John Hughes) is a truckload of synergistic music marketing and a rather bleak message. Though not Hughes' best from the era, (my personal favorite is The Breakfast Club) Pretty In Pink is also shamefully entertaining.
Top-notch casting, music and production design cover the basics - you can't fault Pretty In Pink for being amateurish - while sharp writing makes even pedestrian high-school conflicts slyly melodramatic. Blane, (Andrew McCarthy) preppy with the hots for Andie, must crack through her cruel-to-be-coy exterior while convincing his richie friend Steff (James Spader) that it's OK to date a poor girl. Not really interested in the plight of Blane, although his twitchy/ sweaty demeanor, puppy-dog eyes and fuzzy upper lip bring realistic urgency to his conundrum. It's Spader's laconic sleaze that first anoints Pink with classic status, in hindsight it looks like he's already playing a role on Boston Legal, unknowingly gearing up to accept the William Shatner title as new king of cocksure smugness. As he contemptuously disses Andie with the flick of a few words (while still trying to get in her pants) it seems like his Marlboro Gold might spontaneously combust.
Of course Pink is more-or-less Duckie's movie. With few slips, Cryer douses Duckie with convincing lovesick pathos. Using comical stiff upper-lip bravado Cryer masks his deep, ineffectual longing for Ringwald's character with authenticity that makes me sad for my high-school self. Then he blows the movie open with an electrifying lip-synch to Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness" and you really know the world of hurt he's in. Ringwald rules the roost, in her way, in an update of the mother/ virgin/ harlot role Hughes creates. Dragging her hangdog pop out of bed and making him coffee, Andie doffs her home-made matronly-hip outfit and hat (all the cool kids wear hats) before heading off to school. She provides Duckie with more motherly chiding (we know the rebuffed horndog will be OK though) and then off to play weird-to-get with Blane, all pure-white skin and teeth fighting their way past her adorable lips.
As sugary '80s synth-pop drives, (while the cleaned-up Psychedelic Furs title track serves as Andie's theme music) all kinds of fun pop-drama passes by; sub-plots that enforce Hughes' odd message. Hiding in among Hughes' keen observations - Andie is tired of watching her weird friends 'get dumped on and punished for trying to defend themselves,' while in another instance she and Blane put up with crap at a house party way longer than anyone who wasn't a teen trying to fit in would put up with it - hiding there is an unsubtle call to misfit teens, asking them to normalize. Hughes fronts his consistent teen comedy message (see Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, for instance) frequently in Pretty In Pink. If the ending doesn't confound you enough, (but watch the extras from Everything's Duckie for a new perspective) watch as Andie's boss goes from punker to Laurie Anderson's mother in a quest to find a stable partner. Hell, Hughes pretty much spells it out with Andie's counselor's sage advice: "If you put out signals that you don't want to belong, people are going to make sure that you don't." Take that, individualists!
Conform or die lonely? I don't know, but it's still a fine popcorn potboiler, whether you were a teen then, or are a teen now, it's Hughes nearing the height of his '80s game, full of peppy writing, smooth performances and classic tunes, Pretty In Pink rates high on the re-watch meter.