I watched John Hughes’ 1986 film Pretty in Pink on TV last night, and I just so happened to be reading You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation by Susannah Gora (Crown, 2010) at the same time. Credit to Gora, especially Chapter Six, ”SITTING PRETTY: Ringwald and Hughes Reteam for Pretty in Pink, a Rose-Tinted Look at Teenage Love” for most of the list below.
1. The poster. The Breakfast Club (1985) was released just a year prior to Pretty in Pink (1986), and its poster featured the characters staring unsmilingly at the camera (Annie Leibowitz’s camera, to be precise). According to Gora, this was a departure from teen film posters which tended to emphasize the funny or silly, even when they contained serious elements (see, for example, the poster for Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
2. The Ringwald-Hughes reteaming, sort of. Ringwald had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984) and The Breakfast Club, both written and directed by John Hughes. As he had done with those films, Hughes wrote the part of Andie Walsh for Ringwald. But he left directing duties to first time director Howard Deutch, who was until then best known for cutting film trailers. The studio, Paramount, wanted a bigger name for the female lead, someone like Jennifer Beals, who was famous for her role as the welder-exotic dancer in Flashdance (1983). Luckily, Beals turned them down. Can you imagine an actor best known for this shower scene as Andie?
3. They wanted Charlie Sheen for the role of Blane McDonnagh. Or, if not Sheen, some lantern-jawed jock type. When Andrew McCarthy showed up, at Ringwald’s request, Hughes and Deutsch were puzzled:
“‘Him!? He’s just sort of this little shy, twerpy guy.’
After the audition, Ringwald went up to Hughes and Deutch and said, “That’s the kind of guy I would fall in love with.”
McCarthy grins thinking back on it. “I wasn’t gonna outcool a guy,” he says. Vulnerability and humility were what he “had to offer. And so I accentuated that.” (Gora, Kindle Locations 2696-2703)
4. They wanted Anthony Michael Hall for the part of Duckie. But Hall had been in four Hughes films in two years (Vacation, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and The Breakfast Club) and wanted to try new things. He also felt the “two guys and a girl” plot was a rehash of Sixteen Candles. What did he make instead? Out of Bounds. Never heard of it? Me neither.
5. James Spader won the part of Steff by being a jerk in the audition process, walking in with a cigarette, putting it out on the floor, acting like an arrogant jerk (Gora, loc. 2779). He had starred in Tuff Turf (1985), a teen music-dance film the cheesy likes of which today’s teens will never know. Unless… they click here to see Spader’s character leap out of bed, in his boxers, holding two pistols, and shoot a fly off an Einstein poster on his bedroom wall (scroll ahead to 8:10 or so. It’s worth it, I promise.). I had a huge crush on Steff as a teen and felt then, as now, that all of the sex appeal of McCarthy and Cryer together wouldn’t fill one one Steff’s ever present silver flasks. Was there ever an actor who could rock a linen suit, unbuttoned shirt, loafers, no socks, and Bonnie Bell lip gloss like Spader? And he wore this to school!
6. Bit parts. Did you know that Gina Gershon had a small role in Pretty in Pink, as one of the rich bitches? That “comedian” Andrew Dice Clay was in it, playing a bouncer? That it’s the future vampire slayer, Buffy Summers — Kristy Swanson — who winks at Duckie at the end? And that Dweezil Zappa, who was Molly’s boyfriend at the time shows up briefly, too? Here’s a 1986 People pic of Molly and Dweezil.
7. A tragic death. Alexa Kenin, who played Andie’s mouthy friend who smoked in gym class, died before the film released, and it is dedicated to her and to a set decorator. According to the website findagrave.com, she was either beaten to death or died of an asthma attack.
8. The music. Hughes himself listened to music –namely British new wave bands like Depeche Mode and the Psychedelic Furs — that wasn’t yet well-known in the US. Ringwald loved that kind of music, too. Although Director Deutch wanted American rock, and would have preferred the Eagles, Hughes won out. I have to agree, watching the film again last night: the soundtrack was excellent.
The songs that the kids in Pretty in Pink are listening to, says music critic Rob Sheffield, “are by bands that only obscure, gloom-obsessed, gloom-obsessed, big-hair New Wave-y kids were listening to at the time—yet the movie presents that as the lingua franca of Midwestern American adolescence.” (Gora, Kindle Locations 3225-3226)
That said, there were two things I didn’t like about the soundtrack. One problem was having the Psychedelic Furs re-record “Pretty in Pink” to sound more upbeat and less dramatic than their original version. Thankfully, the lyrics remain pretty dark:
Richard Butler explained the song’s meaning to Mojo magazine November 2010: “The song was about a girl who kinda sleeps around, and thinks it’s really cool and thinks everybody really likes her, but they really don’t. She’s just being used. It’s quite scathing.”
The second really wounded me: failing to use Nik Kershaw’s 1984 original version of “Wouldn’t It Be Good”, opting instead for a new version with the Danny Huston Hitters. WTF??!!! “Wouldn’t It Be Good” was my favorite song and video of 1984.
One more bit of music trivia: did you know Suzanne Vega wrote “Left of Center” for the film, and for Andie specifically? I did not!
9. I liked Andie a lot on a re-viewing of this film. Boy, was she tough. I hadn’t remembered that. She supported her father emotionally and financially. She helped Duckie with his homework and Iona with her man problems. She was way more mature and strong than either male lead. Here she is, ripping Blane a new one for dodging her phone calls after asking her to the prom. And Blane actually cries! He was pretty milquetoast, it has to be said, pinballing the entire film between a domineering bff and a usually pissed-off redhead.
She goes to the prom alone. Nuff said.
10. The clothing. Ugh. For all the Andie’s vaunted fashion sense, I never liked how she dressed. I understand it even less now. I am prepared to acknowledge this as a personal failing. But… could she have looked any more matronly than in the gray getup she wore on her date with Blane?
And, while I realize her prom dress showcased her grit and creativity and nonconformity, and I do love the neckline, couldn’t it at least have fit her body?
Ok, have at me *ducks.*
11. The ending. Everyone knows by now that Hughes’ screenplay called for a different ending. As Gora writes:
[Andie] is reinvigorated when she and Duckie reunite at the prom, in an “us against the world” climax. “It was sort of romantic,” Cryer says of the sequence, “but mostly, they were friends. There was not a kiss.” In that last shot, with Duckie and Andie twirling together in the center of the dance floor, oblivious to the stares, the movie seemed to be saying: there will always be Blanes in the world, but in this moment, that doesn’t matter. (Gora, Kindle Locations 2888-2891)
Test audiences booed. Gora says “60%” wanted Andie to end up with Blane. So they reshot the ending, having Blane show up alone, looking remorseful, and tested both versions with audiences, with the new one winning handily. The new ending, although not favored by the director and others behind the scenes, had many advantages: it pleased the target market, was therefore more commercial, capitalized on the sexual chemistry between Ringwald and McCarthy, and, perhaps less plausibly, sent the message that economic divides could be bridged by love. On the negative side, it made the film fluffier, more of a fantasy, and sent a mixed message about both McCarthy’s and Ringwald’s characters. Are audiences supposed to forgive Blane’s after a ten second speech (“You said you couldn’t be with someone who didn’t believe in you. Well I believed in you. I just didn’t believe in me. I love you. Always.”) and puppy dog eyes? Was Andie truly strong and self-respecting or not? To this day the director, Howard Deutch, regrets it:
“I thought the new ending was heartbreaking. Heartbreaking. I thought it was unfair and wrong, and that’s not what the movie was intended to be. It felt,” he says, searching for the right word, “immoral.” (Gora, Kindle Locations 3045-3047)
12. Duckie. As much as I didn’t think Blane deserved Andie, I never understood how anyone could think Duckie was appealing as a love interest for Andie. To me, he was like an annoying little brother. He wore lederhosen and porkpie hats, for goodness sakes!
To the filmmakers, Duckie was the heart of the movie, but to me, Duckie was, at best, comic relief, and at worst, a deeply annoying scene chewer. Apparently, Ringwald agreed with at least part of my assessment:
“Actually,” Ringwald continues, holding nothing back, “I think he seemed gay. I mean, if they remade the movie now, he would be, like, the gay friend who comes out at the end. He wouldn’t be winking at a blonde [Kristy Swanson], he would be winking at a cute guy…I feel bad saying that I really fought for Robert Downey, Jr.,” Ringwald allows, “because it sort of seems like I don’t appreciate Jon’s performance, which I totally do—it’s just, it really did affect the movie.” Cryer is indeed aware of Ringwald’s feelings surrounding all of this. He points out that on the 2006 “Everything’s Duckie” edition DVD of Pretty in Pink, “Molly dropped the bomb that she would’ve been fine with the original ending if Robert Downey, Jr., had played Duckie…But since it was me, she just couldn’t see it. It was like, wow, so I’m that unattractive? Thanks, Mol!”(Gora, Kindle Locations 2935-2941)
I agree 100% with Ringwald. If they had cast Downey, the original ending would have worked perfectly.
13. Blane’s prom scene hair. They had to call the actors back to reshoot the new ending. By then, McCarthy had shaved his head and lost tons of weight for another role, so they used a wig. It’s truly appalling. I wasn’t able to find a good image, but here’s a link to the scene (skip to 2:01).
14. Classy. The 1970s and 80s inaugurated period of quickly widening class distinctions in the US. There’s been some interesting academic work on the Hughes films, a lot of it focusing on the way the romance narratives intersect with class distinctions. Here’s a bit from an article called “Postfeminist Cliques? Class, Postfeminism, and the Molly Ringwald-John Hughes Films” by Anthony C. Bleach from Cinema Journal (Vol 49, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 24-44):
Like Bernstein, Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner suggest that Hughes’s teen films have “the makings of a socialist discourse,” as they “make class differences the basis of their romance plots.”‘ What his films actually accomplish with this “subliminal” discourse seems to be equivocal, though. On one hand, Ryan and Kellner claim that his films appear to “mobilize persistent populist anger against unjustifiable differentials in the distribution of wealth” by using romance narratives that show teenagers from different classes superseding class differences in order to join together. On the other hand, these same films can’t seem to think outside of these class differences: “none . . overtly advocates a leveling” of them. What Hughes seems to be saying in his films is that “the metaphor of romance . , . promotes the persistence of class differences by suggesting that they ultimately make no difference.” Regardless, his films do express “a desire for such leveling” of class differences, although on a “personal/emotional” level rather than on a “structural/rational” one…
Jon Lewis also discusses the ways Hughes’s teen films emphasize the importance of individual solutions to class differences: “Hughes’s little dramas of class warfare end . . . with the triumph of individuality”^ Lewis claims, importantly, that it is the female protagonist whose place in the narrative allows her to upset the social order of things. He argues that the protagonist’s “populism,… [her] democratic benevolence, coordinates a victory of romance over cynicism.”"‘ Further, he claims that Hughes’s teen films insist “on the clairvoyance and persistence of the feminine.”" These critics suggest that one reason why Ringwald and these films are endlessly remembered today might be because a young woman is the one figure across the films who attempts to navigate the class differences of her social milieu.’
15. “Seminal! Iconic! Generation-defining!” Really? I like Gora’s book, but there are a lot of overblown claims like these:
there is one generation who was particularly, and permanently, affected by these movies: the post–Baby Boom cohort born in the late 1960s and 1970s, labeled Generation X. For these people who came of age in the 1980s, this cinematic world and its players made an indelible mark upon their formative years. (Gora, Kindle Locations 246-248)
“these are the films that define every teenage generation.”
“Maybe the reason today’s teens relate so deeply to these films is because the movies helped create the very notion of the teenage experience as we know it.”
“the shared experience of a generation forever changed by the movies of their youth.”
These films “captured and defined something that is very powerful and meaningful to people.”
I was a white suburban middle-class heterosexual American high school girl from 1983-1987 — the target audience if there ever was one – and I would deny every one of these claims. This is actually the first time I’ve seen Pretty in Pink in at least 20 years, and I only watched it because it was on TV. I can’t recall if I saw these movies in the theater or on video. I certainly wouldn’t say they had a big impact on my life or on my friends’ lives. It’s been enjoyable re-watching some of these old Hughes films, but no different than re-watching Terminator or Blade Runner or Lucas or The Sure Thing or any of the other movies I saw at the same time.
That said, it’s been fun taking this little trip into film history. I’m working on a post on Some Kind of Wonderful. Stay tuned!