Overanalyzing Pretty in Pink–beware!

Most people have a favorite teen movie from their youth. Mine would have to be Pretty in Pink. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it. I saw it with a bunch of school friends (all girls–many of us were teary-eyed as we exited the theater) when it was first released in 1986. I’ve owned the video (VHS) for at least 16 years. It’s been a little while since I last watched it, but it was on AMC the other day–slightly and amusingly butchered–and watching it again I was reminded of some of the enduring reasons that I like it, even now. I also noticed–in some cases for the first time–some of the ways in which it doesn’t work. When you’ve seen a movie countless times, it’s hard not to pick up on editing gaffes, plot inconsistencies, and the quality of the acting–both when it’s bad and when it’s, maybe surprisingly, pretty decent.

The set designer must have had a lot of fun doing this movie. Even now, even with the overabundance of pink, I still like Andie’s bedroom. This time around, I noticed that she has at least one–maybe two–Mondrian prints on her walls. I can’t say whether that influenced me as a teenager, even subconsciously, to check out Mondrian myself, but it’s entirely possible. Iona’s Chinatown apartment is fun, too–though the kooky retro 50s/early 60s black and white stuff isn’t really my taste.

Andy's bedroom
Andie in her bedroom with her dog, Ace. Sadly, this is one of the best pictures I could find of her room–doesn’t show much, but you can see one of the Mondrian prints on the wall in the background.

Iona's apartment
Iona (Annie Potts) and Andie (Molly Ringwald) in the kooky 50s/60s room in Iona’s apartment. Andie is wearing a pretty nice Chinese jacket.

Trax, the record store where Andie and Iona work, makes me all nostalgic! I mean, did we all know someone who had that Smiths poster, or is it just me?
Iona at Trax
Iona at Trax

Of course Andie’s outfits are fun. That’s a little part of the point, right? She makes a lot of her own clothes… the film is even called Pretty in Pink. Some of it probably looks a bit goofy to someone watching the movie for the first time today, but I still like some of the pieces and combinations. Some of the colors are great. I like the vintage blue cardigan she wears at the record shop, and I especially love that lace top (can’t find a good picture of it, of course).

I’ve always liked John Cryer in this movie, and this time around I spotted some specific places–besides the classic Otis Redding scene, of course–where his acting really is pretty good. When he realizes Andie is going on a date with Blane (the major appliance), the hurt look on his face is perfect. Most of his acting in that part of the film really works, keeping in mind that he’s supposed to be in high school…

Andy and Duckie
Andie and Duckie at the record store, when Duckie realizes that Andie is going on a date with Blane

James Spader is just great as Blane’s ridiculously snotty friend Steff. His affected voice, the way he saunters around like he owns the place, his thick sleepy eyelids… he totally nails it. The bit at the end where Blane tells him off is classic. “You couldn’t buy her, though, that’s what’s killing you, isn’t it? Steff? That’s it, Steff. She thinks you’re shit. And deep down, you know she’s right.” Melodramatic? Yeah, perhaps. But for a John Hughes movie, that’s a pretty good zinger. James Spader as Steff
James Spader as Steff

Even Andrew McCarthy, who turned out to be rather less of an actor than he might have been, has a couple pretty good moments here and there. Possibly the best scene in a lot of ways is the one where Andie confronts Blane in the hallway at school. McCarthy’s character is doing a lot here–he’s squirming, for sure. He ends up doing the wimpy thing–but he’s crying. It’s not easy for him. (I’ve watched this scene many times, of course, and I think it’s really pivotal for how the film was supposed to end–but I’ll get to that in a second.) Duckie watches this whole scene unfold, and sees the aftermath of their exchange, where Steff tells Blane that Andie “was, is, and will always be nada.” I think Cryer again does a pretty good job here, and of course there’s some good John Hughes movie triumph involved when Duckie tackles Steff and they scuffle in the hall, with Duckie tearing down the prom banner after a few teachers come out of their classrooms to break it up. Steff’s reaction to the whole thing is great, too. It’s largely physical–refluffing his fluffy hair, spitting on the floor, dripping smooth disdain.

The filmmakers have been pretty open about the fact that they changed the movie’s ending after test audiences were disappointed that Andie and Blane did not end up together. In the original, Andie and Duckie end up together. I can see why test audiences felt the way they did. You want the film’s message to be that love conquers all–that class differences are superficial and don’t matter, and you want the characters to be strong enough to get past them. Andie and Blane’s romance gets built up, and even though the viewer sees just how much Duckie likes Andie, there’s not enough (at least, not that made it into the final cut) to show that Andie could see Duckie as much more than a friend, though there is one very purposeful shot at the prom where they take each other’s hands. That got left in, and I can’t help thinking that the filmmakers hoped it would serve a different purpose in the final cut than it did in the test version. To me, it looks like it’s supposed to show that they’re growing closer–maybe romantically. Perhaps the filmmakers decided to leave it in to signify that Duckie and Andie had reconciled and to show their unity as they confront Blane together.

Andie and Blane
Andie and Blane, selling BMW.

The ending that did make it into the film is almost too John Hughes-y. It’s too easy, too quickly thrown together. Of course, when I saw it in 1986 (I was 12, I think), I thought it was perfect. Heck, it made me want a BMW. But watching it now–not so much. There’s this whole thing between Andie and Blane earlier in the film where she tells Blane that she can’t believe in anyone who doesn’t believe in her. At the prom he tells her that he always believed in her but she just didn’t believe in him. Well, duh Blane… you wimped out on her! You started out all brave, taking her to your friend’s party and saying you were above it all, but then you caved! You didn’t return her calls! You backed out on the prom! Something there just doesn’t compute. And pairing Duckie up with some random girl at the prom is just silly. It reduces his role in the film.

I could probably go on, if anyone else is freakish enough to want to continue the discussion…

EDIT: Ah! But YouTube saves the day. Pretty vintage blue beaded sweater is at the beginning of this clip. And oh look–she’s wearing the lacy top thing under it. Around 2:20 she closes a door and we see the aforementioned Smiths poster, and then the scene shifts to her bedroom–Mondrian prints, pretty kimono on the wall, etc. Unfortunately, John Cryer’s good expression when he finds out that Andie is going out with Blane is split over two clips. Most of it is at the beginning of this one. It’s better when you see his initial reaction, though. Molly Ringwald is really kinda so-so compared to Cryer in that scene. Sorry, Molly.

The confrontation scene mentioned above starts around 4:45 here. Great stuff from Spader and Cryer… at least, great for a John Hughes movie.

For now I’ll save the rest for when I’m asked to provide commentary for a special edition of the DVD. (Hyuck hyuck.)

4 thoughts on “Overanalyzing Pretty in Pink–beware!”

  1. How fascinating that the ending was changed! I only saw it once (although I played the soundtrack endlessly), and my main memory is of being disappointed by the ending, but feeling like it was the ending that Hollywood required. Funny that it was really the audience in the driver seat.

  2. i loved this! and i love this movie! but who doesn’t hate the ending? and the fact that she totally butchered that beautiful prom dress annie pott’s character gave her. but anyways, this was lovely to read

  3. I just saw this last night at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, as part of their summer film classics series, which they’ve been doing for 35 years. Good stuff.

    This is perhaps my second most-loved movie (after Gone with the Wind, which I have seen about 120 times). Pretty in Pink is the first movie I remember seeing at the theater. I was seven. I think I’d seen some cartoons before with my mother, but this is definitely the first one I remember. I was excited, even though I was only seven (and, watching it now, I wonder whether it was appropriate!).

    Watching this again last night on the big screen, I was so giddy when the title music started! My friend and I had some great laughs about the Eighties fashion, and I realized that I think I am now older than the history teacher! But I loved every single minute of watching this film, and I know every line.

    I also realized how many small ways this film has affected my life. I’ve spent the last 20 years looking for a red silk robe like the one Andie wears in the “I hate eggs” scene.

    I love Otis Redding because of this movie, and the famous Jon Cryer scene makes me ridiculously, giddily happy every time I see it. When I was 25, I developed a crush on James Spader, and I now enjoy his scenes all the more – he’s deliciously terrible.

    I, too, say “Let’s plow!”

    I agree that the prom dress was way, way better before.

    And I always liked Duckie better.

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