As a friend of mine put it when I mentioned I'd only seen Pretty in Pink once, on a date during its initial release in 1986: "You weren't invited to many slumber parties." While this is *technically* true, I did actually have several friends and spent the night at their houses on many occasions. Rather than watch John Hughes movies, however, we slew many a kobold and played River Raid until our thumbs bled.
I'm not sure what my point was...
Oh right; Pretty in Pink. Three decades (and a couple of months) have passed since it first came out, something I realized when I happened across it while channel-surfing one fine recent weekend evening. After the initial cold blast from the grave that blew up my spine ("30 years?! The face of Death is near!"), I decided to give it another look, and was a bit unnerved by my findings.
Written by John Hughes at the height of his teen drama powers (between Weird Science and Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Pretty in Pink is the story of Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald), a high school girl living with her father on literally the wrong side of the tracks in whatever suburb of Chicago this is supposed to be. Her best friend, "Duckie" (Jon Cryer), is a fellow misfit whose barely concealed infatuation with Andie appears to be his only motivation for getting out of bed in the morning.
But of course, Andie is either unwilling or unable to acknowledge this love, instead choosing to fall for one of the high school "richies," Blane (Andrew McCarthy). Their halting relationship is awkward enough to be plausible, mostly because there's no palpable chemistry between the two. If their climactic kiss at the prom seems like it was tacked on, well, that's because it was. The original ending had Andie end up with Duckie (platonically; more on that later), but test audiences hated it so much they had to reshoot.
Which is rich, considering both Duckie and Blane are unfit paramours. Only one really qualifies as a creep, though.
Less a "major appliance" (as coined by Duckie, in a line improvised by Cryer) than a mousy asshole, Blane is never convincing as a competitor for Andie's affections. I credit Hughes and director Howard Deutsch for at least getting the discomfort of a first high school date correct, but Blane is ultimately worthless. He cries when Andie yells at him (women really respect that) and *doesn't answer the phone* to avoid her, which is strictly a Mike Damone move. He also only ever shows genuine interest in her when he has a chance to stick it to alpha Soc Steff (James Spader), further calling his motives into question.
Shitty as he is — and nobody played ’80s sleazebag better than Spader — at least Steff is straightforward in his intentions. Others have remarked that Hughes's bad-boy characters (see also John Bender) are more intellectually honest than the protagonists. That's both true and untrue in Pretty in Pink, because while Steff's motives are transparent, so are Andie's. She friendzones Duckie from the get-go (and the legendary original ending only had the two of them dancing to David Bowie's "Heroes," not hooking up) and has the *nerve* to ask Blane to grow a spine and stand by his decision to take her to the dance.
Which brings us to Duckie. If Blane is a spineless, nouveau riche d-bag (and he is), then Duckie could actually be dangerous. Even here in the 21st century, we haven't escaped the "stalker as romantic lead" trope of romantic comedies. The 1980s, on the other hand, were lousy with them, and Duckie is one of the worst offenders of the bunch. He's relentless, hounding Andie at school, at her job at TRAX and even at her house, where he insists she tutor him, even though his sole aim in life is apparently to gravy train on Andie's eventual fashion career.
Aside: I know nothing of fashion, finding it inexplicable at best and an affront to civilization at worst, but the dress Andie "designs" from thrift-store leavings and her friend Iona's (Annie Potts, as one of the movie's sole bright spots) prom dress was so hideous that it was one of the few things in the movie my audience of (mostly) fellow high school students collectively laughed at. But would they reshoot *that*? Ha.
At one point, Duckie yells at Andie for having the temerity to choose another guy over him, because he put so much work into winning her over, you see. This conceit, that a man "deserves" the affections of a woman because his desire is so ardent, would be funny if it didn't play out thousands of times a day in real life with less ostensibly hilarious results.
There's the constant harassment, the verbal abuse, the physical violence (he attacks Steff "in Andie's defense" even after she'd already handled Steff's bullshit capably on her own), forcing himself on Iona...all these are things we once laughed off because it's *Duckie*, the guy who's about as physically imposing as a can of Quaker oats. Hell, Iona successfully fights him off, which is of course beside the point, because she shouldn't have to, just as Andie shouldn't have to put up with his unending needy bullshit and possessiveness.
Pretty in Pink isn't a bad movie, necessarily. It's predictable, and no ending aside from Andie's ditching both these assholes and running off to New York to work for Vogue makes sense, but it had Potts and Harry Dean Stanton and a pretty kickass soundtrack. And while people might have been angry Andie ended up with the wrong guy, I think worst-case Ontario with Blane is, he cheats with one of the secretaries at his hedge fund. Duckie is more like Scott Peterson in a paisley vest.
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