Pretty in Pink – A Fairy Tale Never Properly Told

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Today, I will have the pleasure of seeing Pretty in Pink on the big screen for a second time. Having watched this movie for the last 15 years on an almost monthly basis, I have a lot of fan girl admiration for it. Part of this fandom eventually included fulfilling a nerdy dream of mine – reading the young adult novelization that is based on the original John Hughes script. And having just finished this hundred-plus-page piece of teen-approved literature, let me tell you, I got a lot to say.

I first saw Pretty in Pink in the winter of 2003. I was 13, and it was right around Valentine’s Day. Home sick with some wicked teenage cramps, my mom came home with a bag of dark chocolate Hershey Kisses, and a crisp unopened copy of the movie on a bare bones DVD release. Somehow, without even seeing the whole flick from start to finish, she must have known I would love it no matter what. And she was right. From that first strum of the Psychedelic Furs’ song, to the first frame of Andie (Molly Ringwald) pulling out her makeup, it was a hook, line and sinker type situation.

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The story of a thrift shop beauty making the crucial decision about who to end up with at prom (her childhood sweetheart vs. the pretty popular boy) was both thrilling and ridiculous to my young teenage self. The costumes and soundtrack came from another world, and the dialog was (as Andie says) “hot – white hot” in the best way possible. From then on, Pretty in Pink shifted into a movie that fundamentally changed my life and everything I became – to the way I dressed, my taste in music, even my identity (it is also where my nickname “Duckie” comes from – not The Land Before Time, folks!)

But as I turned the pages of the book version, a wave of shock and awe hit me – as if I was unlocking the keys to a old family attic that my grandmother never wanted me to find. These characters, lines, story beats were not the ones I had developed a deep relationship with, but rather were better than I ever had remembered – and proved how much the final cinematic telling of Pretty in Pink was only but a half finished sundae compared to what it could have been.

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From the first page, you can see what breadcrumbs Hughes (and book author H.B. Gilmour) were developing in the way of Andie and Duckie’s relationship, and the emotional journey that they both would take. The scenes that pointed audiences in the obvious direction of these two ending up a pair are even more painfully apparent in this paperback translation – and contain more layers that the film’s director (Howard Deutch) and Molly Ringwald had trouble conveying on screen.

Let’s take for starts Andie’s mom – in the film, she left Andie’s house when Andie was 13. This traumatic moment has obviously left “a mark” on her dead-beat parental figure (played by the late-great Harry Dean Stanton), but doesn’t seem to have as big an impact on Andie’s choices/motivations till the last few scenes of the film. But in the novel, Andie’s mother plays a huge part in the story – including being the reason why pink is Andie’s signature color, as opposed to a throw away piece of exposition that her dad says before their gigantic fight.

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The backstory for Duckie (played by a young Jon Cryer) also gets to be developed – including his parent’s also being separated. This makes him and Andie have a deeper connection than just a childhood crush, that is more told to us than shown through significant moments in their lives. We also learn why Duckie lives in such a strange bit of living conditions – because he moved in with his older brother, and didn’t want to be around his troubled mother.

This all adds substance to the various conversations Duckie has about wanting to care and protect Andie – since neither of them got that from the people that should have loved them unconditionally from the start. This also makes the scene in which Andie has to tell Duckie she’s seeing Blaine all that much more painful to witness – he’s losing the one shining light in his very struggle filled life.

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But the most famous change that happened from script to the final cut of the film was the removal of the original ending – where Duckie and Andie would finally take to the dance floor and show the school that “they didn’t break” them – essentially. In the book, there are even hints that Duckie was the boy Andie was destined to be with – as she sees a vision of him several times in her prom related dreams. It is indeed romantic… but was it the right ending?

Well, history proved that a lot of test audiences (at the time) wanted Andie to instead choose Blaine. But in my mind, after “seeing” the two endings, I feel neither really finishes the story in the neat bow that it ultimately deserves. In fact, I would have liked for a mix of the two – where Blaine meets Andie at the front of the prom and initially takes her hand, but instead Duckie is the one that comes to her midway through, dressed to the nines, and sweeps her off her feet – making her see how much he’s grown and changed to become the man of her teenage dreams.

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Clearly, Hughes wanted to make a story about two outcasts that beat the odds and issues that life throws at them, and to rise above the judgements and selfish behaviors of their fellow classmates. He clearly envisioned a story that was more than just a typical Romeo and Juliet tale with 80’s trimmings, but one that had significance to those who weren’t the picture perfect, polo wearing teenagers of 1986, or any year or decade in the future.

Instead, Pretty in Pink is more remembered for it being an out of this world, mushy time capsule of nostalgic filmmaking. It features wonderfully zany, melodramatic Hughes staple moments, incredibly iconic visuals of the era, and equally memorable performances from Cryer, Annie Potts (Iona) and James Spader (Steff). Ringwald also leaves an impression, but more as being a great movie star than a completely convincing actress – especially when you consider many of the choices she made in playing Andie were dictated by her own teenage brain (and hormones) as opposed to ones that would benefit the story.

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My Andie inspired outfit. I took a cardigan I got in my Dia & Co box (that reminded me of Andie’s TRAX outfit), an Ashley Nell Tipton dress, and other elements to look like I had just stepped out of Andie’s wardrobe.

Regardless of the final outcome, I have too much love and admiration for Pretty in Pink to have my reactions to it turn negative. But as someone who loves to study the behind the scenes stories, and original plans within the film process, I can’t help but feel disappointed. This was a movie that obviously was something Hughes wanted to leave an impact on audiences – hence why he tried his hand at the story again when he wrote the very similar (but better) Some Kind of Wonderful.

Screenwriters should have their projects come to life just as they intended to on screen – and the collaboration of the rest of the crew (or the minds of audiences) shouldn’t make the film a shell of what it could have been. Because much like Andie’s homemade prom dress, your final product (after well intentionally sacrificing two perfectly good dresses to make it) could come out more like an example of 80’s teenage “taste” than a timeless piece of both fashion, or a good piece of cinema.

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