John Hughes is one of the few film makers in Hollywood who remembers high school. It's not the noisy dump we've seen in all too many teen movies, jammed with horny, brassiere-waving party animals and scantily clad wind-up dolls.
Hughes' version, which serves as the setting for the delightful new comedy "Pretty in Pink" (citywide), offers us a school-locker point of view, not raucous high jinks suggested by some studio marketing survey. Memory may have softened some of the rough edges, but high school is still a strange, forbidding landscape, full of kids saddled with volcanic emotions, uneasy bonds of friendship and a huge desire for acceptance.
Caught in the middle of all this seismic activity is Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald), a resourceful free spirit who's attending a snobby suburban school. With her mom gone and her dad (Harry Dean Stanton) out of work, she toils in a local record store, nurses her bedraggled Pop out of bed in the morning and creates her own billowy wardrobe out of threads that look like they were strung as curtains in the local thrift store.
Andie is blessed with a pair of goofy pals--Duckie (Jon Cryer), a baby-faced hipster, and Iona (Annie Potts), an older, record-store compatriot who serves as a surrogate, New-Wave Mom. Duckie is clearly devoted to Andie, but her real crush is Blane McDonough (Andrew McCarthy). A shy, doe-eyed preppie (or to use the movie's parlance, a Richie ) , he's trapped in an almost cruelly insular world. Compared to his upper-crust buddies--who go trap shooting, cruise around in BMWs and prepare for the USC frat-blast Hall of Fame--Andie might as well be from Mars.
The two occupy such parallel universes that when Blane visits Andie in the funky section of the schoolyard, you get the feeling that he's leaped over the Berlin Wall. Can love bloom for this '80s version of Romeo and Juliet, separated not by parents but by peer pressure? It's a deceptively simple notion, even for a teen fable. But what makes "Pretty in Pink" such a satisfying, big-hearted film isn't its creaky story line or its somewhat unconvincing conclusion, but the way it lets us watch kids through their own eyes, exploring feelings instead of making caricatures of them.
Written by Hughes and directed by newcomer Howard Deutch, the movie neatly captures the nuances of youth, reminding us how the most casual remark can unleash a flood of insecurities. To emphasize this intimacy, Deutch first shows us reaction shots of everyone's faces, then cuts back to what's transpired, as if to remind us that these kids know far more than they ever let on.
The film is also buoyed by a captivating performance by Ringwald, who has an unerring ability to share her character's emotions with an audience, as if we were eavesdropping behind her makeup mirror. (When Ringwald bursts into tears, theater ushers should pass out Kleenex--her flashes of emotion are contagious.)
The rest of the cast is equally stellar, aided by some razor-sharp costume design. As Duckie, Cryer is a whirlwind of loopy energy, masking his self-doubts with breezy aplomb and a non-stop repertoire of show-stopping patter.
In his pork-pie hat, round-rimmed shades and paisley shirt, he has the air of manufactured hipness that you'd expect from a kid who's grown up listening to old tapes of Symphony Sid. Other standouts are Annie Potts, who parades around in a series of sky-high wigs seemingly cemented with hair spray, and James Spader, who plays a hilariously debauched rich kid--his voice a purring sneer, his linen-suited wardrobe seemingly stolen from Don Johnson's closet.
"Pretty in Pink" has its share of missteps, but it's far from a cheery teen fairy tale. (And mercifully free of the dreamy, teen Angst that almost capsized Hughes' last film, "The Breakfast Club"). These kids have a bumpy ride, but this is one film that identifies with their passions instead of indulging them, giving us a perfect back-seat view of kids out cruising, not for kicks but for a hard-earned sense of pride.
'PRETTY IN PINK'
A John Hughes production of a Paramount Pictures release. Producer Lauren Shuler. Director Howard Deutch. Writer John Hughes. Camera Tak Fujimoto. Editor Richard Marks. Music Michael Gore. Production Design John W. Corso. Costume Design Marilyn Vance. With Molly Ringwald, Harry Dean Stanton, Jon Cryer, Annie Potts, James Spader, Andrew McCarthy, Jim Haynie, Alexa Kenin, Kate Vernon and Andrew (Dice) Clay.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (Parents are strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.)