|Pretty in Pink (1866)
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, Annie Potts, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: Howard Deutch
If you were to make a list of the quintessential John Hughes movies, the holy trinity would likely be “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Pretty in Pink.” In terms of the overall quality of those movies, well, two out of three ain’t bad. “Pretty in Pink” earns its cred for having the best soundtrack ever assembled for a Hughes movie – ask BE writer Will Harris, and he will convincingly argue that it is the birth of what became the modern rock movement – but let’s be honest: “Pink” doesn’t hold a candle to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Even “She’s Having a Baby” (which sports the second best soundtrack to a Hughes movie) is arguably better than “Pretty in Pink,” and this can be attributed to one simple thing: Hughes directed “Ferris” and “Baby,” while someone else (first-time director Howard Deutch) directed “Pink.” And while “Pink” is certainly not a bad movie, it is not the classic many believe it to be. The dialogue tries way too hard to be clever (though it’s the earliest use of the slang ‘crib’ to describe a house that I know of), the acting is spotty, and the characters aren’t nearly as fleshed out as they are in other Hughes movies. If not for the performance of Molly Ringwald, it’s quite possible the wheels would have fallen off completely.
Ringwald (for whom the movie was written) stars as Andie Walsh, a self-sufficient girl from the wrong side of the tracks at a very clique-ish school where students fall into two classifications: Zoids and Richies. Andie has a BFF in Duckie, the Zoidiest Zoid in all of Zoidville (Jon Cryer) and carrier of a big, bright torch for Andie. That dynamic of their relationship becomes severely complicated when a Richie named Blane (Andrew McCarthy) makes a move at Andie, and much to Ducky’s dismay, she likes him back. All concerned learn hard lessons about life, love, social status, and how incredibly good James Spader (who plays Blaine’s best buddy Steff) is at being a complete jackass.
Looking at the movie now, it’s a wonder that Ringwald didn’t crack from all of the pressure that is placed on her character. Every person, from her best friend to her sad sack father (Harry Dean Stanton, inspired casting if ever there was such a thing) to her boyfriend to her boyfriend’s friends to even her teachers (don’t blink or you’ll miss Maggie Roswell, voice of Maude Flanders and Helen Lovejoy, as the gym teacher), is a source of conflict and stress in Andie’s life. Her only means of escape is Iona (Annie Potts), her mercurial record store co-worker, and even she is a bit of a crackpot herself, sporting a different look – and I mean look, from clothes to hair – in every scene. Now, I was a Zoid myself in school, but I’ve never seen a school as openly hostile as the one these kids attend, and that makes the tension between the Richies and the Zoids seem manufactured. The rich kids at my school didn’t taunt the poor kids, they ignored them.
Which makes it all the more important that Ringwald, as the movie’s centerpiece, delivers the goods, and boy, does she. Her Andie is fiercely determined yet guarded, hopeful yet jaded, and when she gets her heart splattered, yours will ache a little as well. It is easily the best work she’s ever done. Cryer has a star-making role here, but aside from the fantastic lip-syncing sequence to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” you can see why she doesn’t love him the way he loves her. He’s a tad immature and, let’s be honest, annoying. McCarthy’s performance has held up better than I expected. He’s clearly uncomfortable in his own skin and unhappy with what is expected of him, but not strong enough to stand up for himself. And then there’s Spader, whose Steff oozes contempt for everything he touches, even the things he pretends to care about. One quick quibble with the story: we know why Steff has it out for Andie (she turns him down early in the movie), but does Blane know that? He acts as though he does in the revised ending – which plays OMD’s “If You Leave” for eight minutes straight – but surely Blane would have called Steff on it before the prom, yes? Okay, enough quibbling.
“Pretty in Pink” is cute, it’s funny, and it’s surprisingly dramatic for a “teen comedy,” but it just doesn’t quite gel the way that Hughes’ other movies from the era did. But hey, you can’t hit them all out of the park, and “Pink” still works better than every other movie that Hughes wrote but someone else directed. No actor wants to be most remembered for work they did 20 years ago, but Ringwald was truly on another level here, and she should be proud of the work she did here, no matter how long ago it was.
Absolutely scores of new interviews with nearly everyone involved with the movie, including Ringwald, Cryer, McCarthy, Potts, director Howard Deutch, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, and even Kate Vernon, who played Benny, Steff’s bitchy Richie girlfriend. (Sadly, Spader is nowhere to be found, though he’s spoken of fondly, and Hughes, like on the new “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” DVD, is a no-show.) The most fascinating bit has to be about the alternate ending (one of the rare instances where they got it right the second time), and what it meant for Andrew McCarthy, who was off doing a play (to say more would ruin it). Deutch also contributes a rather quiet audio commentary, letting minutes go by without actually commenting on anything. Still, huzzah to Paramount for understanding the importance of bonus features fans can truly get into. They did it with “Clueless” and “Ferris,” and I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves for the upcoming “Grease” reissue.