February 4, 2013

"Highschool is a Battlefield: Pretty in Pink" by Gina Myers

Pretty in Pink (1986) is a modern--or at least 1980s--take on a classic fairytale. The movie opens with Andie, our rebooted Cinderella, in need of a date for the prom. Two possible suitors present themselves to her: one, Duckie, her doting childhood friend, and the other, Blane, our Prince Charming, a “richie,” who drives a BMW. This is a love story about class. A very white, suburban love story. And at first sight, it is a movie of strong women and weak men. However, against the backdrop of high school, stock characters, and a simple plot, the movie gets at something more complex and unsettling, whether intentional or not, through its treatment of its characters on their quest for “love.”

The protagonist Andie, played by Molly Ringwald, lives in a single parent home with her father (Harry Dean Stanton), an underemployed part-time laborer whom she routinely pesters to look for more work. She runs the house, waking him up in the morning and preparing breakfast, and supports herself through her job at a record store and supports her style through her ability to upcycle thrift store finds. She’s strong, independent, and a good student trying to make it through her senior year at a high school where she’s an outsider due to her socio-economic status.

Andie’s number one confidant is Iona (Annie Potts), a slightly older woman who happens to also be Andie’s boss at the record store. Since Andie’s mother left her and her father years ago, Iona serves as a surrogate of sorts. In our introduction to Iona, we see her dressed in black, wearing heavy eyeliner and spiked hair, threatening a shoplifter with a staple gun and telling off a paramour over the phone. She’s loud, brassy, opinionated, and not afraid to show it.   

Despite having two seemingly strong, independent women in main roles, the fact remains that the movie is all about the prom. And ultimately it conveys the same old story: that women can only be happy when coupled up with men. The last time we see Iona, she has totally changed her appearance--which isn’t that uncommon for her--but here it is into a yuppie, in order to fit in with her new yuppie boyfriend.

Although Andie expresses some apprehension early on in the film, she clearly wants to go to the prom. She asks Iona if she went to her prom and whether or not it was terrible. Iona responds, “It was the worst. But it’s supposed to be.” She goes on to tell a story about a friend of hers who didn’t go to her prom: “Once in awhile she gets a terrible feeling, like something is missing. She checks her purse and her keys, she counts her kids, she goes crazy. And then she realizes that...nothing is missing. She decided it was side effects from skipping the prom.” The story suggests that if you don’t follow the traditional narrative, you’ll have missed out. Later in the movie, after Andie tells Iona she has a date to the prom, Iona’s saccharine nostalgia for her own prom materializes through a game of dress up. 

Duckie (John Cryer), Andie’s childhood friend, dotes on her to an exasperating degree, and though he is supposed to be seen as funny and harmless, his language and behavior betray something less sweet. In our first introduction to him, he asks Andie, “May I admire you again today?” as she is walking away. She hides her face in embarrassment, and he turns to two other women and makes the proposition: “Ladies, I may be able to work out a deal where either one or the both of you could be pregnant by the holidays.” He calls Andie constantly, leaving message after message on her voicemail when she isn’t there to answer. And later he admits to being a stalker: “If I really have it solid for a girl, I’ll ride by her house on my bike. I’ll do it like one hundred times a day.” 

An aside: This undertone of stalking takes on a more insidious nature when considering the real life death of one of the actresses in the film. The movie is dedicated to two people, Bruce Weintraub, the set decorator/production designer, who died of AIDS before the movie’s release, and Alexa Kenin, who played Jena, Andy’s friend at school, who also died before the release of the film. However, Kenin’s death has been variously reported as either a drug overdose or a murder, but the more credible websites say it was murder. She was either beaten to death by an ex-boyfriend or by a fan who stalked her. There are no more details readily available and no mention of whether or not the person responsible was ever captured.

Now back to the quest for the prom: Blane (Andrew McCarthy), Prince Charming, emerges out of nowhere to sweep Andie off her feet. Even though they go on a pretty miserable date, Blane corrects the evening by asking Andie to the prom as he is dropping her off at home. However, he caves under the pressure of his friends and tells Andie that he forgot that he had already asked someone else. Andie sees through this and calls him out on it, demanding him to admit that he is embarrassed to be seen with her. 

The most pressure Blane receives comes from his friend Steff (James Spader), a perfect villain in this high school love story. Steff is a classic misogynist who sees it as his duty to conquer as many women as possible. However, one woman, Andie, refuses to give him the time of day. Early in the movie, he confronts her in the school parking lot: 

Steff: C'mon, I'm talking about more than just sex here. 

Andie: No you're not.

Steff: You know, I've been out with a lot of girls at this school. I don't see what makes you so different.

Andie: Well, I have taste.

Steff: [puts cigarette in mouth] You're a bitch. 

When Blane starts to see Andie, Steff sabotages the relationship, calling Andie trash and telling Blane not to bring her around. At the prom, when Blane realizes his mistake in listening to his friend, he tells Steff: “You couldn’t buy her, though, that’s what’s killing you, isn’t it? Steff? That’s it, Steff. She thinks you’re shit. And deep down, you know she’s right.”

The original ending for Pretty in Pink had Andie getting together with Duckie. After she no longer has a date for the prom, she decides that she will go anyway, to show everyone that she hasn’t been broken by them. When she shows up, she sees Duckie, who had abandoned her when she started dating Blane, and the two walk into the prom together. In the original ending, they then take to the dance floor, and the movie ends with Andie embracing Duckie and lifting him up off the floor. However, this ending did not test well with audiences. Further, studio executives were worried about the message that rich people and poor people couldn’t come together, so John Hughes was ordered to write a new ending, which he was not happy about. 

In the version of the movie that is released, Andie does meet up with Duckie at the dance, and they do walk into the prom together, but after that she winds up with Blane. In a reunion of cast members organized by entertainment weekly in 2010, Ringwald said that Blane and Andie probably broke up two weeks later. 

Because Hughes was not happy about the revised ending of Pretty in Pink, he decided to write Some Kind of Wonderful, which would end with the two lifelong friend characters coming together, though in this version it was the female character, Watts, who realized she had feelings for the male when he starts pursuing someone else. Hughes wanted Ringwald to play the role of Watts, but she refused, which effectively ended her working relationship with John Hughes.

One of the best qualities in Pretty in Pink is how it shows that the outsiders did not want to be a part of the in crowd, even though Andie does, briefly, wonder what it would be like to live in a nice house. Too many more recent films show the outsider character undergoing a transformation that allows him or her to finally be accepted by the in crowd, suggesting that all the outsider really wants is to be a part of the popular group and denying the reality of outsider status as chosen opposition to or chosen alternative to the mainstream. Because of its embrace of the outsider, the movie has some wonderful costuming and sets, including the punk club where Andrew Dice Clay works the door, bands like the Rave-Ups and The Talkback perform, and Dweezil Zappa (as Simon) sits in the audience; and there’s the record store where Duckie is able to get his Otis Redding on. 

However, even though Andie does not change who she is and does not desire to fit in with her classmates, ultimately Pretty in Pink remains just another Cinderella story.

Gina Myers is the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and several chapbooks, including most recently False Spring (Spooky Girlfriend, 2012). Her second book, Hold It Down, will be published by Coconut Books in April 2013. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

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