Paramount // 1986 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // September 12th, 2006
Blane's a pretty cool guy. Andie's pretty in pink. And Ducky's pretty crazy.
From 1983 to 1987 John Hughes was in the zone. In those five years he either wrote or directed (or wrote and directed): Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In those five years he not only defined the decade for just about every teenager who came of age in the 1980s, but was also the creative force behind two of the seminal comedies of the era. Of course he had his biggest commercial success with 1990's Home Alone, but ironically this film was the beginning of the end of his artistic relevance, as it signaled the beginning on his shift in focus to disposable children movies like Flubber.
Pretty in Pink is one of the more prominent jewels in John Hughes's crown of '80s teen dramedies. Hot on the heels of other Hughes DVD upgrades (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful), Paramount gives up Pretty in Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition.
Andie (Molly Ringwald, Sixteen Candles) is a hip teenager, but she's living in a single-parent household and her father's out of work. Her dire financial situation not only causes tension at home, but also makes her untouchable and undatable in her school's rigid caste system. Despite this, two boys vie for her affection: Duckie (Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men,), her wacky, and equally destitute, best friend, and Blane (Andrew McCarthy, Weekend at Bernie's) a rich, enigmatic hunk who is willing to damn societal pressure in his pursuit of Andie.
Pretty in Pink may not be Hughes's most prominent film from the '80s, but it is still a worthy addition to his golden period (which, admittedly, includes a few clunkers like Weird Science). Sure, the story is hardly inspired. It's a classic love triangle, with an unappreciated protagonist forced to choose between an earnest social misfit and eye candy (believe it or not, at the time Andrew McCarthy was considered quite a dish). It's worth noting that, though the story was already a cliché, it was still recycled by Hughes the following year to great effect in Some Kind of Wonderful.
What makes Pretty in Pink so effective is the confluence of good acting, great characters and an earnestness that seems endearing in the '80s context, but would probably seem overwrought in a modern melodrama. In 1986, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy were both in their Brat Pack prime. Though neither shows much range or passion, I still found myself wondering why their careers both evaporated in the early '90s. Ringwald in particular is so adorable it makes all acting skill irrelevant. Jon Cryer, whose career's been resurrected on sitcom television, gives the performance of his life as Duckie, the poster child for spazzes. Whole dissertations could be written on how endearing the Duckie character is, but instead I will save several paragraphs by making a prediction: when Cryer passes away, the clip honoring him in the Oscar tribute to the recently deceased will invariably be Duckie lip-synching "Try a Little Tenderness." And though few in attendance will have felt any strong emotion on first hearing of Cryer's passing, this brief glimpse of Duckie will induce a Pavlovian response of shudders and perhaps even some tears. Two and a Half Men can run for another 10 years, but to millions of Gen X-ers he is always going to be Duckie.
Of course, mention must also be made of James Spader's (Crash) performance as Steff, one of the most loathsome preppies ever captured on film. Like acne, Steff shows up at most inopportune moments to berate Blane for pursuing a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks. I had heard that in real life Spader is a nice person, but he is so effective as the blow-dried blowhard here that I find this hard to believe. And on his director's commentary Howard Deutch does say that Spader -- the person, not the character he plays -- was an "obnoxious creep," so maybe my instincts are correct.
Pretty in Pink also takes full advantage of the unique fashion and music of the 1980s. It features a soundtrack (The Psychadelic Furs, New Order, The Smiths) that was hip at the time, and still induces a pleasant nostalgia (without any of the shame or regret that comes from a band like Taco). The fashion is far more cringe-worthy than the soundtrack, with an abundance of tapered jeans, pastel colors and permed hair. For those who lived through it, this will be a horrifying -- though enjoyable -- trip; for youngsters, the fashion in this movie will be fantastically awful and is sure to provide a sense of aesthetic superiority in your generation.
Ultimately, this is a fun, emotional (but not too deep) film made for teenagers that will delight anyone who is in high school, or has ever been in high school (home schoolers I don't know about). If it's somehow fallen through your grasp then I highly recommend you treat yourself.
Of course, Pretty in Pink has already received a bare bones DVD release. The bad news is that the Everything's Duckie Edition does nothing to improve the previous DVD's soft colors and slightly grainy presentation. However, it does offer two prominent extras. Although the box lists them as individual featurettes, these are all really just different segments of what is essentially an entertaining documentary on the film's production and legacy. It features interviews with Ringwald, McCarthy, Cryer, and director Deutch (I guess Spader was busy). I should note that, though the one of the special features is described as "The Original Ending," this is not footage of the actual original ending -- which is well known and has caused lively debate amongst the film's fans -- but a featurette discussing the alternate endings. The DVD also features commentary with the affable Deutch, who pretty much gushes over a film he clearly cherishes. At the low retail price of $14.95 this movie is quite the bargain.
While Pretty in Pink is hugely enjoyable, it does suffer from the same lack of subtlety or subtext that is endemic among teen dramas: characters never like each other, they can only be hopelessly in love. Alternatively, it is impossible to merely dislike someone; there is only blinding hatred. Considering how well the movie works, the fact that it ignores the many subtle grays of emotion is an easily forgivable sin. However, it is worth noting that a 1987 Hughes film, Some Kind of Wonderful -- which is often criticized as a mere re-hash of Pretty in Pink with the genders reversed -- is a slightly richer and profound movie.
Molly Ringwald is on record as proclaiming Pretty in Pink as her favorite movie in her cannon, and it's easy to see why. The film may not be original, but it portrays teen angst with humor and as much depth as one can expect from a comedy. I imagine most everyone who came of age in the '80s has seen the film, but I highly recommend all you children of the '90s to give this one a look. And yes, people really did dress like that.
Not guilty. But I think the fashion police may want to bring you in for some questioning.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary by director Howard Deutch
* "The First Time: The Making of Pretty in Pink" featurette
* "Zoids and Richies" featurette
* "Prom Queen: All About Molly" featurette
* "Volcanic Ensembles" featurette
* The Lost Dance: The Original Ending
* Favorite Scenes
* Wrap Up: The Epilogue
* Photo Gallery