Pretty In Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition Review
Andie (Molly Ringwald) is from the wrong side of the tracks, maybe even from the wrong side of life for the rich kids who surround her at an elite Chicago school that she is able to attend thanks to community-minded funding. Her one friend in the place is Duckie (John Cryer), who's even less of a fit in the place, his retro quiff and, even by Andie's standards, sometimes bizarre choices of clothes looking out of place amongst the pastel suits and country club chinos of the rest of the school. But by night, Andie dreams of meeting a guy - a nice guy! - who'll ask her to the prom, who'll kiss her on the steps of the school and who she'll fall madly in love with. A guy who's right. A guy who, is spite of how much he loves her, is not Duckie!
Then it happens. She first sees him hanging around the record shop where she works with Iona (Annie Potts). The two of them verbally dance around each other, each one avoiding the obvious. But then, in the library, he tentatively approaches her online, sending Andie a picture of himself. He's handsome, he's caring, he's called Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and he's everything that Andie has ever dreamed about. The only problem is that he's rich. He drives a BMW, he lives in a beautiful house in a tree-lined avenue and he's a member of an exclusive country club. When Andie refuses to even let him take her home to see her rundown house by the railway tracks, her unemployed father and her attractively untidy bedroom, what little trust there was between them disappears and their relationship, which was only just blossoming, is almost over. How quickly their friends turn on them - Duckie refuses to speak to Andie and Steff (James Spader) tells Blane not to ruin a good friendship over so stupid a fling - finishes it off. But prom night is getting closer and it looks like Andie, Blane and the lovestruck Duckie will be spending it alone.
"So is he the love interest?" Such a question was asked by someone very dear and very close to me during the watching of this film. Given that Pretty In Pink is essentially a romance, it's a fair question but maybe not when it's James Spader who's on the screen at the time. After all, this was produced in 1986 by John Hughes (it was directed by Howard Deutch) and it features Spader dressed in a white linen suit, driving an expensive car, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette and attending high school. And it's that last point that's most relevant for Spader in high school in the eighties can mean only one thing, that he's a rich asshole. Love interest? Not unless it's an affair conducted in the manner of Narcissus.
It is true, though, that James Spader doesn't have a great deal of screen time in Pretty In Pink but what there is is quality Spader time. Even Howard Deutch admitted that he didn't really want to cast him, believing him to be an, "obnoxious creep" who he didn't actually like. Hughes, on the other hand, was insistent. However, Deutch and Hughes did agree on a more central piece of casting, that of Molly Ringwald as Andie and despite the protests from the studio, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Andie. It isn't that Molly Ringwald was a particularly great actress but through Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, she'd defined a particular character onscreen who was beautiful but not conventionally so, who was independent but needed a strong sense of home and family and who presented a style that was unique but also a blend of what was then happening in popular culture. Little wonder, then, that Hughes and Deutch held out for her and why it's Ringwald who's the making of this film - it may well have been written for her but she returned their favour by turning in her best performance.
Come to Pretty In Pink and she fits easily into a film that's all about a Romeo-And-Juliet-styled piece about a relationship between the rich Blane and the thrift-store Andie. Granted, her sense of style was somewhat questionable even then - the tights, or hosiery, that she wears during a PE class give her the appearance of suffering from varicose veins whilst the actual pink prom dress that she wears is utterly hideous - but there's an obvious nod an alternative rock culture with the visual tips to The Smiths and their appearance on the soundtrack alongside OMD, New Order, The Psychedelic Furs and Nik Kershaw. Of course, you may well laugh at the inclusion of Nik Kershaw - I know I did! - but for a stateside culture with a hangover from REO Speedwagon, this was as edgy as the mainstream got in '86.
And yet the particular contradiction at the heart of Pretty In Pink is how, in spite of The Smiths, it is such a straight-laced film. Even as Andie dresses in a mix of shockingly bright fabrics and bohemian chic you know, in her heart, that there's the all-too-familiar beat of a Mills & Boon romance. So it is too with the sense of affection between Andie and Blane - whilst it ruminates on the differences in their wealth, it's uncomplicated by drug addiction, alcoholism, teen pregnancy or even genital herpes. Andie's father may be something of a layabout but unlike a more hard-hitting film like Out Of The Blue or Top Spot, there's no threat of physical violence from him. Again, Duckie might be at a low point when Andie begins her affair with Blane but he isn't found unconscious with an empty pill bottle beside him nor is he drunk and in the gutter. Speaking of which, it is only Steff who appears visibly drunk in the film but as has already been pointed out, he's not much more than a rich asshole.
There isn't, however, much to complain about in that as Pretty In Pink doesn't promise uncompromising thrills. It comes, after all, from the pen of the man who would later write the Home Alone films, but thanks to a behind-the-scenes crew who had some odd ideas about the soundtrack and the design of the cast's costumes, it introduced a sense of indie cool in a feature that's otherwise poker-straight. How many pop kids got their first taste of indie rock via this film and its use of The Psychedelic Furs. For that alone, I could love it but with a sympathetic and likeable performance from Molly Ringwald, it's a fine example of John Hughes' sometimes-silly teen romances.
Like many films written and, less frequently, directed by John Hughes, Pretty In Pink looks quite ordinary with an understated style that's probably less a conscious decision by the filmmakers than one forced upon them by budget constraints. Filmed on location, this comes to DVD looking acceptable but without much detail in the image, with the backgrounds appearing soft and with a slight blurring to the picture. A particular low point comes at the actual prom in which no one, not even Molly Ringwald, looks their best, with Andrew McCarthy bearing a pallor that could best be described as deathly. A better transfer might have attempted to bring the colours in those scenes more into line with the rest of the film. That said, due to the particular look of Pretty In Pink, one never expects very much from the DVD but this could have been improved upon.
It does, however, come with a remixed DD5.1 audio as well as the original DD2.0 Stereo mix and both are perfectly fine. I found, though, that I preferred the original audio track, thinking the remix sounded a little thin. Again, much like the shooting of the film, the dialogue can sound flat but the actual quality of the audio tracks are much better heard during the songs that litter the soundtrack, including Pretty In Pink, which sounds great over both the titles and the end credits.
Commentary: Howard Deutch is on his own for this track and it suffers from that, with his leaving many, many silences throughout. Even during the moments when he sounds most animated, Deutch is still a quiet presence and entire scenes pass without hearing from him. What's a shame about this track is that it obviously misses having John Hughes involved with Deutch, despite him being a director, clearly stressing the importance that Hughes had as writer and, along with Molly Ringwald, the figurehead of these particularly eighties teen romantic comedies.
The First Time: The Making Of Pretty In Pink (12m55s): Let's be entirely honest here, the real interest that many of us will have in these features is seeing how Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer and, in particular, Molly Ringwald look twenty years after the making of the film. Well...they have all aged very well with Andrew McCarthy appearing perhaps a little more lined and having gone a curious grey colour but otherwise little different. Otherwise, this serves as an introduction to the making of the film but is rather a slight feature on its own.
Zoids And Richies (18m27s): Only in eighties movie land and in the class warriors of the north of England did anyone care enough to draw a distinction between rich kids and their poorer counterparts and how outrageous a suggestion it was that the two should get it together. This feature, which doesn't so much stand alone as carry on from that which preceded it, describes the richies as being Blane, Steff and their ilk whilst zoids are obviously Duckie and Andie. However, what this does do well is to describe the casting process - Jennifer Beals was considered for the part of Andie by the studio whilst Charlie Sheen was almost cast as Blane - and how involved Molly Ringwald was in that.
Prom Queen: All About Molly (12m43s): It's only fitting that the star of the film should have an entire feature devoted to her. Only seventeen when Pretty In Pink was made and in the middle of her exams, Ringwald describes her life during the making of his film and the two that preceded it, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, as well as her growing up being as well-known as she was.
Volcanic Ensembles (9m18s): As someone who was shocked at some of the things worn by Molly Ringwald in this film, it's unsurprising that we have a feature describing the buying of clothes and the inspiration behind some of the outfits. Frankly, though, this doesn't sufficiently explain some of the fashion nightmares in Pretty In Pink but perhaps simply saying that it was the eighties is quite enough.
Prom Stories (3m11s): A very American tradition - or at least it was presented as such - the prom is now making its way over here or already has done given the stretch Hummers that occupied most of the width of the roads last June. When something makes it to Downpatrick, I'm assuming that it's made it everywhere else. As for this, it features the cast and crew in archive and more recent interviews telling all about their own prom night experiences, of which the boys seem to rather sheepish about whilst the girls are proud.
Favourite Scenes (20m19s): Having expected this to simply be Molly Ringwald's favourite scenes from the film, I was surprised to see the cast and director interviewed about eight scenes - these include Duckie's Dance, In The Club, The Date and Fight In The Hallway - and why they are as memorable as they've since proved. Of course, this is a subjective feature and I can't say that the scene between Andie and Benny (Kate Vernon) in the classroom did a great deal for me but clearly the two actresses are fond of it.
The Lost Dance: The Original Ending (12m17s): Andie doesn't end up with Blane? Well, not how it was originally written she didn't, with Duckie ending up as the lucky one who left the prom with Andie on her arm. Unfortunately, we don't actually see this ending but there is behind-the-scenes footage of it being shot and Molly Ringwald and Howard Deutch describing it and why it was felt not to work. And is that it? Not quite as the cast and director are then interviewed as to their own thoughts on whether Blane or Duckie should have been the recipient of Andie's affections.
Finally, there's Wrap Up: The Epilogue (6m45s), which wraps up this rather piecemeal making-of with final comments from the cast and crew, as well as a Photo Gallery of publicity and behind-the-scenes shots.
In my writing up a review for the Brat Pack Collection of The Breakfast Club, St Elmo's Fire and About Last Night, I fretted about Pretty In Pink, "...fearing that its romantic sheen will crumble as did my fondness for The Breakfast Club, which evaporated in the 93 minutes that it took to watch the film." I shouldn't really have worried as. It is as much a nonsense as The Breakfast Club but it's a much, much better film and one that takes itself a good deal less seriously. It's probably a career high for Molly Ringwald and was so good that John Hughes effectively rewrote it as Some Kind of Wonderful but remains, no matter its many faults, as being a high point of teen romances of the decade that, on this evidence, mixed angst, alternative pop and bright pink stockings into an effective and charming brew.