Film discussion

Pretty in Pink (1986) – Teen Movie Rewind

In our Teen Movie Rewind series, we explore coming of age stories and teen cinema, looking at the impact of the films themselves and the careers that they made.

The U.S release of Pretty in Pink in February of 1986 marked several firsts for the pantheon of John Hughes’ films. It was his first under a new production deal at Paramount after having delivered Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science for Universal, and it would also be his first collaboration with director Howard Deutch, who would direct a further two movies written by Hughes, but in the opposite end of things. It would also mark the end of a short-lived era, one that would have a profound impact on teen and YA cinema; Pretty in Pink would be the last time Hughes would work with Molly Ringwald.

In the grand scheme of Hollywood creative and actor collaborations, Ringwald and Hughes may have only made three films together over a period of two years, and that may seem small potatoes compared to something akin to Martin Scorsese and his working relationships with De Niro, Pesci and DiCaprio, but there is no denying that the three films and the work that Hughes produced with Ringwald as star laid down a groundwork that has continued to reverberate in teen films and pop culture in the years since.

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The dissolution of their working relationship wouldn’t effectively happen until casting for the following year’s Some Kind of Wonderful (something of a remake of Pretty in Pink, albeit with a different ending, but we’ll get to that soon) when Ringwald opted not to join the cast of Hughes’ gender-flipped equivalent to the events depicted here. There was magical alchemy that seemed to have been achieved with the work the two delivered in such a short space of time given how profoundly impactful they were.

It might be easy to laugh or dismiss the Ringwald/Hughes trilogy as nothing more than mere 80s teen movies, no more or less deeper or meaningful than Porky’s or The Last American Virgin, and certainly Sixteen Candles has depressingly problematic elements equal to the more raucous equivalents that were doing the rounds at the time. And yet the things about them that still work, the things that made them different to the more R-rated raucous nature of other works, and the level of sweetness, pathos, serious observations, particularly in The Breakfast Club and here with Pretty in Pink can be seen as being influential on television series that would follow in the 90s (My So-Called Life, Dawson’s Creek) and the onslaught of YA fiction from the authors such as Rainbow Rowell and John Green.

The final collaboration between Hughes and Ringwald reverts back to being a vehicle for Ringwald, compared to the ensemble nature of The Breakfast Club and with it one of the most defining teen films of the era. There is little of the leery, problematic sexual behaviours on display here as there was in Sixteen Candles. Yes, James Spader’s character Steff McKee (the most douchebag name in the history of douchebags) is a leery, toxic one, but Hughes’ writing and the manner of the storytelling here is making that abundantly clear.

Even more interesting is that while there are affluent upper-middle-class characters here, Hughes’ script and Ringwald’s character of Andie Walsh are placing focus on a character on the other side of the tracks, compared to the upper-middle-class fairy tale settings of his previous movies, with their beautiful suburban homes and gorgeously put together neighbourhoods. Yes, we have the token nice guy who is part of the mean crowd, but the film is aiming to show the meaner side of financial success and growing up with privilege, compared to Sixteen Candles and Hughes’ second film of 1986.

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There is always a sense in Hughes’ writing that he was very comfortable living in the era of Ronald Reagan’s reign as President of the United States throughout the 80s, and one can of gets the feeling that the parents of many of his characters may very well have been Reagan voters. Yet taking the political element aside, it’s interesting to see how a writer like Hughes’ deals with a character who isn’t from as financially comfortable a life as his usual plethora of main characters, and where the type of characters that would usually be front and centre are now somewhat antagonistic figures (with the exception of Andrew McCarthy’s Blane McDonough, who cuts such a nice figure that test audiences were so won over by him that they effectively ended up facilitating a change in the film’s original ending).

What we have here is something approaching a love triangle between the three leads staring out at us from that none-more-80s moody black and white cast poster consisting of Andie, Blane, and Duckie (played by Jonathan Cryer). The script ended with Andie finding love with her long time friend Duckie, but in an indication of how Hollywood studios were becoming dependant on test screenings (particularly Pretty in Pink’s studio Paramount who would follow a similar pattern with the following year’s Fatal Attraction), audiences wanted Andie to be with Blane and that was what audiences got, facilitating a reshoot in which McCarthy had to wear a wig in order to hide a change in hairstyle as a result of shooting another film.

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We can argue until the end of time as to whether or not the right decisions were made here, although one could argue that Ringwald and Cryer’s chemistry felt more sibling-like anyway and that the original ending was another in Hughes’ attempts to let the nerd win the day as seen in Sixteen Candles and Weird Science.

In any event, Hughes’ frustrations with the change would lead him to write Some Kind of Wonderful. Hughes being Hughes, Pretty in Pink wouldn’t be the only film he’d put his name to in 1986; the second he would also direct, and would arguably be his greatest teen film – a delirious piece of high concept comedy that worked on one level as a teenager but which could be looked at differently as a grown-up.

It was time to ditch school, at least for a day.

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