Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pretty in Pink Movie Review

There’s a real timelessness in John Hughes’ films that center on teenagers that belies the sometimes terribly dated fashions and soundtracks that accompany his stories. The opening montage of Pretty in Pink (written by Hughes, but directed by Howard Deutch) screams 80’s. The blaring saxophone of The Psychedelic Furs’ title song screeches over a scene of Andie (Molly Ringwald) getting ready for school in the morning. She crafts her own clothes, which look a lot like a blend of New Wave and post-punk. Later there’s James Spader as the wealthy yuppie Steff with his linen trousers and blazer, collared shirt unbuttoned halfway down, and his flowing blonde locks. Andie’s childhood friend Duckie Dale (Jon Cryer), who is not so secretly crazy for her, is a pure original fashion statement, but distinctly dated to the period.

Can you blame them for trying to hard to connect with a teenage audience? Still, the problems the characters face are not unique to 1986 but can still be found in suburban high schools across the country today. Pretty in Pink highlights the class divide that became preeminent during the Wall Street 80’s. It’s about a girl from the poor side of town being raised by her underemployed father (Harry Dean Stanton). She falls for a rich boy who lives in a mansion, goes to a country club with his family, and socializes with the other “richies” at lavish house parties that take advantage of vacationing parents.

Hughes captures the seemingly insurmountable social mores of the American high school with stunning clarity. Andie likes a boy named Blane (Andrew McCarthy) whom her friends consider the enemy. Likewise his friends look down on her, treat her like trash, and threaten to ostracize him if he continues seeing her. Andie says, and it feels like it should be obvious, that money doesn’t matter. But who your friends are does. And if your boyfriend or girlfriend can’t or won’t be accepted within your social circle, you have a choice: forget the object of your affections; or risk alienation from your friends. These are powerful forces for a teen and it’s not entirely clear what the right thing to do is. Where Pretty in Pink differs significantly from the very similar Some Kind of Wonderful (released the following year) is that in this case the rich character isn’t just getting back at an ex-boyfriend – he genuinely likes Andie and his conflict is palpable and also tragic from my current perspective. Twenty years ago it seemed so obvious he was wrong.

Spader is really the highlight in this movie. His performance as the smarmy Steff is perfection. Every line is delivered with a sneering look and tone of voice. Molly Ringwald continued to demonstrate her tremendous poise as a young actress and ostensibly the voice of a generation of teenage girls. Cryer struck me as much more of an impressive performer than what I see now on his TV hit series “Two and a Half Men.” He gets several solo scenes that allow him to wax romantic on his love for Andie. And he has a moment of great disappointment, played all in the eyes and body language, when he sees Andie about to go on a date with another boy. Anyone who’s been in his shoes should immediately recognize that feeling of being crushed by dashed hopes.

The film ultimately wraps up a little too tidily. In my youth, the ending was the right one and the teenage romantic in me was happy that Andie and Blane work it out outside the prom. Now I suppose I’m more cynical, or maybe realistic, but I don’t see it going anywhere for them. And I fear that their relationship will continue to be beset by strife and difficulties where their family and friends are concerned. Maybe Andie made the wrong choice, the one that Hughes and Deutch allowed Eric Stoltz to make in Some Kind of Wonderful.

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