Classic Film Review: “Pretty in Pink,” aging like ugly fashion

Channel surfing by this title the other night took me back to 1986, when John Hughes was just finishing up an epic run as “Movie Voice of American Teenagers” and Molly Ringwald took her curtain call as The Girl in that “Sixteen Candles,” “Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” trilogy.

I follow a lot of “Pretty in Pink” principals on Twitter, and they’re always reposting some flattering remembrance of it from fans and influencers and people who are both (James Corden, of course).

Reviewing this back in the day (not my third rodeo, kids), I remember dragging two pals to the showing and wondering if they ruined it for me. I mean, they made quacking noises every time “Ducky” showed up on screen, and truthfully, I think they came just to catch the famously hip soundtrack Hughes’ team always compiled for him.

As the newspaper I wrote that review for flooded, and then burned (at the same time) and thus my clips and those years at the paper are lost to the mists of time, aka “The Red River of the North,” I thought I’d try to see it with fresh eyes.

But I wonder if I’m about to get another batch of Twitter blocks. Because within minutes, the hot pink mess “Pretty in Pink” is comes flooding back.

Is it a movie where “The girl gets the wrong guy?” It was a very different time, but did Hughes not have the guts to make Ducky (Jon Cryer) gay? Or bi?

 “This is an incredibly romantic moment, and you’re ruining it for me!”

Or was Hughes taking his shot at a sort of “Pride & Prejudice,” where the fashion conscious but poor heroine Andie (Ringwald) gets her head turned scoping out the houses of the well off like Elizabeth Bennett driving through the rich part of town in a battered Karmann Ghia?

“Ever consider going out with someone who has money?” she asks her school clique.

Dreamy rich Blane (Andrew McCarthy) has her eye, but Ducky — relentlessly — has her ear, sharing her fashion sense, stalking her to clubs he can’t get into, lip-sinking to Otis Redding, like an Anthony Michael Hall from “Sixteen Candles” who’s given up the macho shrimp shtick and is trying on “FAB-ulous!”

Blane’s country club comrade Steff (James Spader, his first turn as “venomous) may have it in for the pretty in pink Andie (who rebuffs his advances), but can these two kids from the literal opposite side of the tracks find love anyway?

The teeth-grinding nature of “Pretty in Pink” goes back to Ducky, and not just because of his annoying, cloying, clinging omnipresence. The movie reflects that character. It tries too hard.

Hep cat cowpoke Harry Dean Stanton as Andie’s unemployed, depressed dad? Annie Potts as the record store manager who matches Andie’s thrift-store fashion sense, and raises her crazy and crazier hair in every scene? That pink Karmann Ghia?

It’s all so artificial and on-the-nose.

Hughes wrote from a very narrow perspective, something that became more and more obvious the more movies he made. Suburban Chicago settings, upper middle class affluence, rarely if ever a Black face in sight. Gedde Watanabe’s outlandish stereotype turn in “Sixteen Candles” wasn’t an accident.

Hughes ran out of things to say about teens with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” signaled a new, more grownup direction that he never took.

He didn’t rediscover his clout until he turned his attention to younger children such as the upper middle class Chicago suburbanite left “Home Alone” for the holidays. “Curly Sue” followed that, and threw in some seriously retrograde anti-feminist messaging to go with the whiter-than-whiter world Hughes worked in.

As for “Pink,” it lives on as an artifact, more of a time-capsule than the other Hughes teen comedies, and not just because of the standards of who and what were “hot” back then. The decor of that record store, the Morrisey poster and conspicuous placement of The Smiths LP (and cassette) bin, are more idealized than our memories of the era.

But those fashions! It’s not the colors that date it. You see yoga pants that look like flattering versions of the bagwear all the young women are trapped in underneath all that hair product. The gaudy accessories that push “more is more” style, the “relaxed” lines of the men’s and women’s wear (Spader’s “Miami Vice” without the tropics linen suits). Were we ever that young?

All that said, “Pink” lives on. But is this a “cult film” that deserves to be one? I don’t think so.

MPA Rating: PG-13, lots of profanity

Cast: Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy, Annie Potts, James Spader and Harry Dean Stanton.

Credits: Directed by Howard Deutch, script by John Hughes. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:37

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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