Review: Pretty in Pink (1986)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #702

Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: February 28, 1986
Sub-Genre: Romantic Comedy/Drama
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $9,000,000
Box Office: $40,400,000
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Howard Deutch
Producer: Lauren Shuler
Screenplay: John Hughes
Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto
Score: Michael Gore
Editing: Richard Marks
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures, CIC Video
Stars: Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, Harry Dean Stanton, Annie Potts, Kate Vernon, Andrew Dice Clay, Kristy Swanson, Alexa Kenin, Dweezil Zappa, Gina Gershon

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫


[1] Sponge “Molly (16 Candles Down The Drain)”

[2] The Psychedelic Furs “Pretty in Pink”

[3] Otis Redding “Try A Little Tenderness”

[4] Danny Hutton Hitters “Wouldn’t It Be Good”

[5] Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “If You Leave”

If you were to ask me for my first bona fide cinematic crush, then my answer would be provided without a second’s dalliance. Molly Ringwald couldn’t do a solitary thing wrong in my eyes, and while other eighties screen actresses also adorned my walls, it was Molly who had earned pride of place directly above my pillow. The California-born actress, singer, dancer, and author may not have been your conventional beauty but that is precisely what appealed so. Sporting a head of flame-red hair and a pair of big brown peepers that could cause my heart to skip a beat with the faintest glance, she was impossible not to fall in love with and I did precisely that. Other actresses got my blood pumping, but with her it was different. We’re talking marriage, kids, white picket fence, the whole nine yards and I’d have willingly given my right nut for just one moment basking in her brilliant light.

Ringwald began acting at the tender age of five, and by ten-years-old, was dazzling audiences in a West Coast production of hit musical, Annie. After landing roles in TV sitcom Diff’rent Strokes and its spin-off The Facts of Life, she was discovered by a certain John Hughes and offered the plum leading role in his 1984 film, in Sixteen Candles. Praised for her performance, Molly went on to become a mainstay of his works right through the eighties, most notably his massively successful coming-of-age comedy-drama, The Breakfast Club. Here she played prissy princess Claire Standish, a spoiled rich kid for whom life appeared already mapped out. In truth, her character was a bit of a bitch, but the thing about Molly was that she knew just how to engage an audience and seemed to be able to do so entirely effortlessly.

However, while Claire was the kind of unobtainable madame we knew full well we’d never have a hope in hell of landing a date with, it was her role as spirited senior Andie Walsh in Howard Deutch’s Pretty in Pink (written by Hughes) the following year that truly struck a chord. You see, puberty was beckoning at the time and I hadn’t the faintest idea as to my identity so appreciated her struggles to fit in with her peers. Regularly harassed and put down by those who considered it their divine right to be considered better than her, Andie stubbornly stuck to her guns and refused to change in order to gain their acceptance. This unflappable strength in character made her something of an ambassador for any kids who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and we were desperate to see her come good.

I know exactly what it’s like to think yourself cooler than anyone is willing to give you credit for and still maintain that all-important modest front. The word that springs to mind where Andie is concerned is dignified as she stood firm in her morals and beliefs even when presented the chance to improve on her social standing. She kept her head down with her studies and put in a shift at new wave record store TRAX each night after school, before returning home to her unemployed father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton) and assuming the role of positive role-model.

Jack had found himself in something of a rut since his beloved wife suddenly upped and left a few years back, leaving him to raise their only child solo. This led Andie to grow up way faster than she would have liked but she seldom fussed or complained and accepted her responsibilities as any model daughter would. If you were looking for grace under fire, then Andie Walsh had it in hyper-abundance.

Anyhoots, enough of the past tense, if we’re to explore Pretty in Pink further, then it seems only right that we take a trip to the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois, where all of Hughes’ teen movies played out and hang out with Andie some more. Of course, if we’re going to do this, then we will need ourselves a guide and what better grubby winkle pickers to slide into given my infatuation with our leading lady than those of Phil “Duckie” Dale? Just for the record, Duckie has been in love with Andie pretty much since kindergarten and will do anything in his power and more to protect her honor. Alas, his overwhelming feelings aren’t reciprocated and she views him solely as best friend, although a resourceful chap like The Duck Man isn’t about to let a miniscule thing like perpetual rejection curb his irrepressible enthusiasm. Isn’t that right Duckie?

Another day of higher education and another day of wishful thinking. How come this particular dame is immune to The Duck Man’s charms? Is my bike not hip enough? No that can’t be it, Andie wouldn’t judge me on my mode of transportation. She’s not that kind of gal. Perhaps I’m losing my edge? Come now, can you hear yourself right now. You should hang your head in shame as this kind of cool is too much for school and I know a thousand other chicks who’d happily give their virginity to ride this chariot. So why then do I find myself inexplicably drawn to Andie? Well that’s easy. She’s Andie. The truth is that I’d die for that girl. Tell another living soul about this and be prepared to feel The Duck Man’s wrath as I’ve got a reputation to uphold and fans to please. It isn’t easy being dashingly handsome and funny you know. That kind of balancing act takes years of fine-tuning to perfect. It’s called a sense of humor – you should get one – they’re nice.

Okay so now I’m pissed. Sometimes I wonder why I bother, as despite my unspoken declarations of love, Andie has only gone and snagged herself a “richie”. Get this, his name is Blane. I know right? Sounds like a major appliance, that’s precisely what I said but do you think she listened? Nope, this walking plank has somehow managed to worm his way into her heart and I’ve spent far too long burrowing to be left out in the cold by a douchebag who possesses all the personality of an ironing board. I’ll tell you now, when she’s feeling real low… and dirty, and her heart is splattered all over hell, she shouldn’t look to me to pump you back up ’cause… ’cause… ’cause maybe for the first time in her life I WON’T BE THERE! You guessed it, I’m off like a dirty shirt. There are plenty of other broads who’d fall at my feet so why waste my time on a chick with such rancid taste? The Duck Man can do better. Time to grab myself a juice box and blow this pop stand. Fucking Blane. Ha!

Not that it’s any skin off my beak but he who should not be mentioned has requested Andie’s hand for the upcoming prom, and the foolish girl has only accepted. She’s dead to me now and the days of me riding past her house after school to check on her well-being are O-V-E-R. I know his game – use her up and spit her out – it’s so predictable that…that I almost feel sorry for her. Blane will soon get bored with her, and when he does, yours truly will be the one expected to pick up the pieces as per usual. I’m sure she’ll conjure up some volcanic ensemble for the gig as Andie could fashion a prom dress from spam and make it marvellous. But he won’t see that as he’ll be too busy trying to steal her chastity in some place uncomfortable before dumping her sorry ass and bragging about his exploits to his “buddies”.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear. With friends like Steff McKee, who needs the faintest slither of personality? You see, it all ultimately boils down to the almighty buck for a smooth operator such as Steff and it’s only natural that will rub off on his associates. Steff says jump, Blane inquires as to the height that is expected, and meanwhile, feelings are getting hurt and hearts obliterated. Of course, she swears blind that this one is different from the rest, but love is a blinkered affair at best and doesn’t concern itself with those it leaves sprawled out in its wake. Breathe a word of this to anyone and I’ll wash my hands of you immediately but this Blane fella may not be as bad as all that. However, he’s just not good enough for Andie, plain and simple, and I’d bet good money that it’ll end in tears if only I had two red cents to rub together.

We’re not all born with silver spoons in our mouths you see. Some of us have to get by on our winning charm and good looks. Ahem, you’re looking at a case in point my friends. I’d suggest just drinking it in as one day I plan to bottle this heady fragrance, make my millions and retire to Honolulu. They’ll dig the Duckie vibe there for sure. Until that time comes, I have a duty to protect the honor of my fair lady. I know, I know, you may have heard me say something about her not being my problem anymore and she’s not out of the dog house yet by a long chalk. But seriously, would you look at her!

An angel from heaven right? I’ve never seen pink look prettier than it does draped over her dainty shoulders. Don’t wish to say I told you so but it would appear that Blane’s actions have been true to type as the gutless wimp cut her loose at the very last minute as per my expectations. That said, in testing times such as these, one must forget their own feelings and focus on those in far greater need. She may not return my affections or undying devotion but I said I’d be there for her always and The Duck Man doesn’t go back on his word, no matter how much his ego may be bruised. Like the song clearly states, I need to try a little tenderness. Your knight in shining bicycle clips awaits Ms. Walsh, so without any further ado, shall we?

Pretty in Pink resonated strongly with this particular viewer as it reflected the pent-up angst I felt growing into my skin in a manner that only Hughes appeared able to truly master. Some believe that Andrew McCarthy lacked the emotional range to make a name for himself outside of this kind of teen-friendly fare but here he is every bit in his element. It is impossible not to warm to Blane, regardless of any questionable decisions he makes (under considerable duress I hasten to add).

As for James Spader as the class-defining villain of the piece, well no other actor from the era possessed quite the same level of arrogant swagger as he and Steff encapsulates what it means to be a spoiled rich kid totally lacking in moral fibre as it simply hasn’t been instilled into this suave devil to care. We know he does of course, more than he’ll ever let on from behind those blacked out RayBans, but a man who doesn’t wear socks out of personal preference is not to be trusted and there’s no limit to the dirty tricks he’ll play to destroy the one girl in high school he wants but can never have.

Jon Cryer provides the ideal yang to Andie’s ying and nary a more naturally charismatic character emerged in eighties cinema in my humble opinion. The fact that Duckie knows deep down how uncool he is socially considered only serves to endear him to the audience more and it is impossible not to be won over by his faux confidence and ability to belt out a Motown classic like his tail feathers depend on it.

Meanwhile, Annie Potts proves a similarly glorious ray of light as culture-clash Queen cum loyal agony aunt and casting Stanton as the downtrodden daddy dearest type is as much of a no-brainer as it is a stroke of genius. However, for as effortlessly engaging as the entire cast are right across the board, it’s Ringwald who we have come to see and this may well be her finest ever performance. She is positively radiant and it boggles the mind that she was initially hesitant about taking the role of Andie Walsh as her heart is embroidered on her sleeve throughout and shines every time the lens takes five in her personal space.

Don’t even get me started on the majestic era-defining soundtrack that included the likes of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Smiths or else I may well O.D. on nostalgia. It may surprise you to learn that I don’t actually regard Pretty in Pink as the best film from Hughes’ teen canon (a fact reflected in the somewhat measly overall score I’m about to award it) and that distinct honor falls unsurprisingly to The Breakfast Club. That said, ask me to single out my personal darling for praise and I’ll gush like a leaky faucet as this wondrous motion picture holds a special little place in my heart like few others. I’ll leave it there, and in the words of a wise young man I once knew who curiously resembled a mallard, I’m off like a dirty shirt.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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