Sunday 22 February 2015

Movie Review: Pretty In Pink (1986)

A high school comedy, romance and drama wrapped into a pink package, Pretty In Pink delves into the politics of love across social class divides, and finds real teenagers grappling with the details of growing up.

Andie (Molly Ringwald) comes from a lower income family and lives on the wrong side of the tracks with her father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton), who has not yet recovered from being abandoned by his wife. Andie is clever, resourceful and takes on the responsibility of keeping her father somewhat functional. At a high school dominated by rich kids, Andie fends off the sexual advances of the lecherous Steff (James Spader), but harbours a crush on his shy friend Blane (Andrew McCarthy). Both Steff and Blane come from monied families and social norms dictate that they stay away from poor girls like Andie. Meanwhile, Andie's best friend since childhood is the extroverted Duckie (Jon Cryer). He is deeply infatuated with her, but she just considers him a reliable if sometimes annoying buddy.

Blane finds the courage to approach Andie and they start dating. Steff is incredulous that his best friend is associating with what he considers an unworthy girl, while Duckie is heartbroken that the love of his life has eyes for someone else. With the big night of the prom approaching, Andie finds herself at the centre of a turbulent romantic drama with ripple effects disturbing established expectations.

Written by John Hughes, directed by Howard Deutch, and packed with new wave music from the likes of The Psychedelic Furs, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and New Order, Pretty In Pink is a cultural milestone. It followed on the heels of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, as Hughes established himself the dean of smart high school films, with Molly Ringwald his primary muse and a generational role model. Andrew McCarthy's presence helps to classify Pretty In Pink as part of the loosely defined 1980s brat pack series of films.

The story itself is a simple riff on Romeo and Juliet, with teenage emotions exaggerated by throbbing hormones and the intensity of the high school experience. Pretty In Pink may be a touch over-scrubbed. Andie is just a shade too perfect, Blane carries a hint of white knight, and Duckie's individualistic free spirit at times reaches into comic relief territory. The ending (changed from the original intent) caters more to fairy tale fantasies rather than gritty reality.

But Hughes again demonstrates his unusually high level of respect for many his characters, with Andie, Duckie, Blane and Jack all developed into rounded people worth knowing. Even Andie's friend and boss at the mall record store Iona (a sparkly Annie Potts) benefits from creditable depth. And the characters all come to life within an efficient 96 minute package.

Through his characters and with a mix of humour and pathos driven by the thumping soundtrack, Hughes delves into some of his favourite issues, including the fuzzy borders between friendship and love, the cliques that dominate high school social interaction, and building difficult bridges across chasms of wealth and privilege. Other than Jack, this is a discovery world made up exclusively of teens, the school teachers a mere inconvenience to be navigated on the road to understanding the truths that define adulthood.

Molly Ringwald is at her best, her subtle expressions a constant source of critical embellishment. Ringwald narrows her eyes, cocks her head and purses her mouth just so, never over elaborating and always with the quizzical innocence of a mature teenager walking the tightrope towards becoming a grown-up. Andie loves pink; Ringwald adds the texture, shades and patterns to bring the one colour to cheerful life.

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