Does Pretty In Pink Hold Up After 30 Years?

By Jerry Beach

About two-thirds of the way through Pretty In Pink, Andie (portrayed by Molly Ringwald) utters a line that probably ended up resonating a whole lot more than even John Hughes could have imagined when he penned it at some point in the mid-1980s.

“Iona,” Andie says while slow dancing with her close friend (portrayed by Annie Potts) who is jealous of the prom experience Andie is about to enjoy, “you’re gonna OD on nostalgia.”

Thousands of moviegoers did that earlier this week, when Pretty In Pink returned to theaters for a screening in honor of its 30th anniversary. (And also the 48th birthday of Ringwald, who blows out the candles on Feb. 18. How old do you feel after reading that sentence?)

The tale of the love triangle between Andie, her fellow outsider Duckie (Jon Cryer) and the brooding rich boy Blain (Andrew McCarthy) served up 96 minutes of gloriously dated sights and sounds. Students working in outsized computer labs, smoking in school and strolling through record stores that had stacks of cassette tapes as well as boxes from K-TEL? Was this three decades or three centuries ago? (Even more awesomely ancient: Duckie sprawled atop a row of newspaper vending boxes)

The soundtrack was as terrific as we remembered, but much of the trip down memory lane reminded us how Hughes mastered a flawed yet comfortably familiar formula.

He didn’t spend a whole lot of time on character development. There was no real reason given for how or why Blain fell for Andie. We never know the root of Duckie’s world weariness. (This seems like a good place to also note that Duckie’s obsessiveness with Andie would today be quite accurately dubbed stalking)

As in most Hughes movies, there were elements of darkness hinted at yet never fully explored. Why did Andie’s mother leave her family? Why are the parents of rich kids Blaine and his nihilistic friend Steff (James Spader, proving to already be a master of portraying the on-screen creep) never seen and barely heard?

Who knows, she just did and they just weren’t, and Pretty In Pink races to the happy ending—one that is likely unsustainable—of all Hughes films. Though to be fair, Hughes reportedly didn’t like the rich-boy-gets-the-poor-girl finale of Pretty In Pink. The original ending had Andie falling for Duckie, but test audiences didn’t embrace it so the revised ending was shot (with a gaunt McCarthy wearing a really bad wig because he’d lost weight and shaved his head for a Broadway play).

In true Hughes style, though, he ended up giving audiences what they wanted, and accepting it in a tidy time frame was a small price to pay for any imperfections. Only one of his six Brat Pack films (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is also coming to a theatre near you for a 30th anniversary showing in May) was more than 100 minutes in length. There’s something to be said for brevity these days, when even the wafer-thin faux porno Fifty Shades of Grey somehow lasts more than two hours.

As he did in all his high school-set movies, Hughes nailed the loneliness and awkwardness we all felt as teenagers, regardless of where we fit in the caste system. The idea of adults as out-of-touch nuisances—who didn’t cringe at the simplistic nature message delivered by Andie’s principal when he said “If you give off signals that you don’t want to belong, people will make sure that you don’t”—rang true then and probably rings truer than we’d like to admit now that we’re comfortably ensconced in middle age ourselves.

We didn’t have to design our own clothes, a la Andie, to feel permanently on the outside of the inner circle. But even those who seemed to be the chosen ones had their own bouts of uncertainty, as evidenced by Blaine’s class angst and Steff’s barely concealed self-loathing.

Along with the rest of the Hughes canon, Pretty In Pink reminded us how we felt in high school as well as a hindsight collectiveness that would have been hard to imagine in “real time. “

“Why can’t we start old and get younger?” Iona asked during her dance with Andie. What would have been the fun in that?

Jerry Beach is a New York-based sportswriter who absorbed far more ’80s culture than medically advisable. Follow him on Twitter @defiantlydutch or email him at [email protected]

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