Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The charms and delights of Pretty in Pink

I absolutely and sincerely love John Hughes' Pretty in Pink. It does have some strikes against it, I freely admit - it's dated at this point (and it feels like it), the dialogue is often clunky, the whole "rich boy with girl from the wrong side of the tracks" conceit is both cliche and often mishandled, it has some deeply cheesy moments, and the prom dress Molly Ringwald's Andie fashions for herself is quite possibly the most heinous garment ever committed to film. Seriously:

It's so terrible. I have seen this movie quite a few times, and I honestly can't figure out how she even got the damned thing on. I think the filmmakers must have had to sew poor Molly Ringwald into it. It's choker-tight around her neck and sack-like everywhere else. This thing hurts my feelings, it's so ugly.

Even with all that, though, this movie is truly affecting and wonderful. Part of it is because John Hughes is just a damned genius when it comes to teen films - he's so good at getting the right ambience, at mining tender and poignant moments out of hackneyed situations and pulling terrific performances out of his young actors. This is particularly true for James Spader, who I adore - only three years after Pretty in Pink, he would star in the classic indie film sex, lies and videotape - who is a brilliant, sleazy presence, swanning around the school in sock-free loafers and linen leisure suits. It's obvious that he's a star in the making. Molly Ringwald is excellent as always, with an occasionally petulant good-girl vulnerability that makes her a thrill to watch. Jon Cryer is a joy to watch as the quirky, lovelorn Duckie, who sets the goddamn screen on fire when he does a dance to - of all the songs - Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." (Seriously.) Even Andrew McCarthy, who grew on me upon repeat viewings, is easy to dismiss as a bland pretty boy (his character's name is Blane, which Duckie hilariously dismisses as a "household appliance), but there's something quietly wonderful about him, too. His indecisive, weak-willed character is perfectly suited to him (something of a backhanded compliment, I know), and he has this meek, slightly pained smile that he affects, and it's stunningly effective. He isn't the most dynamic performer, and it's probable that he just lucked into the role, but I actually think he's kind of perfect in it.

As with so many great teen films, it has a lot of style, from the stellar new wave soundtrack to the thrifty, of-the-moment clothing. I know I came down hard on that prom dress, but I love Duckie's prom outfit almost as much as I loathe that dress: a blue smoking jacket, black pants, a bolo tie, and white loafers. I would have loved to have had a prom date who was outfitted in such a way. Duckie, you did prom right. His style is pretty killer in the whole movie, actually - flamboyant and offbeat but also surprisingly current. He pretty much looks like a modern hipster, in a lot of ways.

It's Duckie, and his lovelorn aching for Andie, that makes the film. I may have mentioned this before on this blog (I certainly intended to, at any rate), but I love the decision not to have them end up together. I love that the fact that he wants her the most, and deserves her, doesn't mean she'll love him back - or even that they'll be right for each other. A lesser film would have had him "earn" her, but that isn't the point. That isn't how these decisions are made. It makes the conclusion infinitely more effective, having him let go of that particular dream in favor of new ones. R.I.P. John Hughes, you brilliant devil.

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