Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.
Pretty in Pink is the quintessential 80’s ‘John Hughes film’ ™. Teenage love and friendship is explored through a combination of comedy and drama, all to a hip soundtrack. Released in 1986, Pretty in Pink was written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch.
The plot is certainly nothing revolutionary or original. It can probably be summed up as love triangle meets class warfare. Poor but full of pep high schooler Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald), who lives with her depressed and jobless father (Harry Dean Stanton) after her mother has left them, somehow attends the same high school as quite-rich Blane McDonough (Andrew McCarthy), the quintessential 80s rich kid who hangs with a superficial party crowd. Duckie (Jon Cryer), the self-styled wacky and determinedly unconventional best friend and constant presence in Andie’s life, is not happy about the growing relationship between Andie and Blane. Duckie loves Andie who loves Blane.
The film progresses through the exploration of a tentative relationship between Andie and Blane, while Duckie becomes increasingly alienated and distraught. These events are helped along by cool record shop owner Iona (Annie Potts, from Ghostbusters), who offers advice like a mother duck and hip one-liners for the audience. Blane of course turns toad and ditches Andie as a prom date when he thinks she is not fitting into the cool crowd. Andie, deciding to go alone to the prom anyway, responds with the best prom-dress sewing-sequence in an 80s film. The result is one not so pretty pink dress, in this reviewer’s humble opinion. It all ends well, with Andie, Blane and Duckie working it out at the prom, when Andie chooses her perfect man – Blane or the Duckster? That’d be telling.
With performances that often veer from 80s camp to schmaltzy melodrama, it can’t be said that Pretty in Pink is the highest quality film in the world. But it does have buckets of charm. It is a perfect example of a John Hughes film at its best. Funny enough but not to the point of embarrassing. Full of 80s sensibility sheen (fashion, hair) but with enough heart to be relatable to a modern audience. The teenagers dialogue is obviously written by an adult, but there is truth in delivery (hello, Dawson’s Creek?).
Another reason the film is so cool is Duckie. Quite simply, Duckie. True, he may seem a bit annoying, a bit too enthusiastic, “look-at-me, now I’m sulking”. True, he is entrenched in sub culture politics, rallying the new wavers against the preppy rich kids. But his love for Andie is very touching, and he does a great mime bit to Otis Reading’s “Try a Little Tenderness”. He is the Duckster.
According to the notes of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, the music was not incidental to the film, but an integral part. John Hughes writes in the sleevenotes, “The music in Pretty in Pink was not an afterthought. The tracks in this album and in this film are there because Howie Deutch and I believe in the artists….”. Like other John Hughes films, dreamy and edgy songs provide the musical soundscape. Packed with 80s New Wave and post punk indie darlings such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Suzanne Vega, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths and, of course, The Psychedelic Furs’ title track “Pretty in Pink”, it is truly a groovtastic soundtrack, and a wink to the sensibilities of a cooler audience than a typical mainstream teen film.
Is it the indie references (The Smiths posters in the record store), the 80s alterna-soundtrack, Andie’s pretty pink fashion, the prom dress sewing sequence, Duckie’s eccentricity, Andrew McCarthy’s crazy eyes acting technique, or just the inherent coolness at its very core that makes this an enduring film? Film theorists would probably say it was the universal themes of growing up, coming of age, discovering the meaning of true love, jealousy and the endurance of friendship. It probably does have something to do with the fact that for all the overall sheen of hipness, the film is played for real emotionality. When Duckie hurts, we hurt, and when Andie yearns for what she thinks she is not entitled to, we are right there with her. Blane, we may just tolerate.
In his lifetime, John Hughes, directed, produced or wrote more than 30 films before he sadly passed away in 2009 at the relatively young age of 59. He was at the helm one way or the other for everything from laughtastic mainstream comedies such as National Lampoon’s Vacation and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, films with cult followings like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, to teen melodramas like Sixteen Candles, and, er, more questionable material in the 1990s such as Curly Sue and Maid in Manhattan. Many a teen became the centre of 80s cool after featuring in a John Hughes film (such as Molly Ringwald who starred in quite a few). He loved to make us laugh, think about the geeks and freaks, and bop to interesting pop. Vale John Hughes, we love you.