This guest post by Kim Hoffman appears as part of our theme week on Child and Teenage Girl Protagonists.
Molly Ringwald was to John Hughes what strawberry jam is to sliced bread. As a forever fan of Hughes and his muse, it took me a long time to warm up to Pretty In Pink, in part because I’ve always played favorites for my first love, Sixteen Candles, followed by the untouchable Breakfast Club. That said, I’m a prideful observer of all Hughes films, having watched each countless times over the years—the aesthetics constantly taking new shape despite knowing the plot will end the same each time. Hughes wasn’t a particularly public man, but his genius mind left traces of secret suburbia and the endless topic of teenagers. Ever since I first watched a Hughes film at summer camp, I’ve been hovering over the wide shots of gymnasium school dances, yuppie keg parties, and high school girls with pink drapes covering their bedroom windows.
In Pretty In Pink, Andi is a self-sufficient, seemingly self-aware teenage girl who lives in a little cottage with her single father. Andi isn’t the type of girl who goes gaga for cocky, linen suit-wearing Steff (James Spader). She’s too busy at home sewing and stitching together her latest wardrobe creations. To her fellow girl students, she’s just a classless, lanky redhead who shouldn’t dare be caught dead at a “richie” party. So, she spends her time at TRAX, a record shop she works at, and a nightclub that showcases hip new wave bands like Ringwald’s real-life fave, The Rave-Ups. Her best friends Duckie (Jon Cryer) and Iona (Annie Potts) admire and envy Andi.[caption id="attachment_6924" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Andi’s style[/caption]
The divide between the protagonist and the antagonist in Pretty In Pink isn’t among clear-cut stereotypes (i.e. cheerleaders, football players, nerds, rebels) but between the size of your house and the make of your car, or the price tag on your pastel peach prom dress. Steff comes off like this unreachable asshole who will never be able to grasp real feelings, but does somehow sense Andi’s pure nature and wants to squash the blossom so as to feel just an inch more powerful on his gross social high school hierarchy tree. Subconsciously, I used to think about this dark versus light dynamic between Andi and Steff when I was a teen warding off unwanted boys.
Andi’s the girl I’m sure an impassioned Cher Horowitz modeled her Daddy care-taking after. Andi’s father, whose wife has since left him, wants so much to please his daughter, to reinventing himself as a stable middle-aged man who can and will support his Andi and not the other way around. Many of the men in Andi’s life are floundering without her guidance—like Duckie. The Duckman is a ball of energy, an equal match in his fashion ingenuity, pining after Andi though it’s pretty clear she’ll never bat an eye back at him. Duckie has this gender queer vibe that feels free and unapologetic. His childlike abandon is admirable—endlessly riding past his crush’s house on his bike. He may not appear buff like the other popular dudes, but he’s stronger than each of them, especially insecure Blaine.[caption id="attachment_6925" align="aligncenter" width="565"] Iona reminisces about her prom[/caption]
Blaine is a popular guy with rich parents, a BMW, a similar wardrobe to his sucky best friend Steff, and he is totally smitten over Andi. He wants to take her to prom. He kisses her. She melts and buckles. But there are glimpses of deception. Is Blaine just bored with his uppity lifestyle and his judgmental friends? Is he trying to get revenge on his parents who he thinks still believe in “arranged marriage”—and by that he means “date someone rich, Blaine.” Frankly, there’s nothing cheaper than Blaine. He has everyone on his back about being seen with Andi. She is seen as an outsider based on the geographical location of her house. Forget how Blaine feels—what about Andi? He can yo-yo back and forth between what’s acceptable and what his heart is telling him to do, but Andi is dealing with a ball of feelings to. She doesn’t have her mother to talk to about these kinds of things. All of her roles as a teenage daughter have been repurposed.
In many of John Hughes’ films, the girls at the party draped over their boyfriends are never the role models. A teenage girl like Andi is supposed to show young girls watching Pretty In Pink that you can be pretty, but only if you’re proud. Like so many teens—especially the ones laced up in 1980s Hughes films–pride isn’t something that’s understood in the first act. Andi has to feel betrayed first. She has to confront Blaine in the hallway after he doesn’t return her calls and claims he is taking someone else to prom. She has to have a heart-to-heart with her dad on the couch about whether or not he’s doing his best to be both a dad and a mom. Her dad somehow has to tell her that being with Blaine and suffering from the ebb and flow of love is all worth it, even from where he’s sitting. And Andi has to let Blaine drop her off at her front door. Most importantly, she has to just be a teenager—a girl who will make mistakes, need to rely on other people, and can’t always be there to pick up the broken pieces at home. She has to experience this moment, even if it’s a stupid prom. But she has to experience something true to this time in her life.[caption id="attachment_6926" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Andi begins to make her prom dress[/caption]
Andi also has to have a kick-ass comrade who she can look up to, vent to, and play dress-up with. That girl is Iona, owner of TRAX. Oh, rockin’ beehive babe Iona. She’s a sassy broad and she doesn’t believe in wasting lip-gloss after 7 o’clock. She plays a chameleon of personalities through her wardrobe and she’s drenched in nostalgia, always. But, it seems Iona’s sense of the world is a little bit dreamy and drippy like a push-pop creamsicle on a hot afternoon. Iona, being the older girlfriend who still swoons hard over her prom, convinces Andi she needs to go to prom, warning her: “I have this girlfriend who didn’t go to hers, and every once in a while, she gets this really terrible feeling—you know, like something is missing. She checks her purse, and then she checks 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.”
Let’s set one thing straight—I never went to my own prom. Sure, it’s this American classic, but it’s so patriarchal—a prom queen and a prom king to rule the ball. There’s so much emphasis on prom in teen films. Will her crush ask her? Will she find a dress in time? Will she be humiliated when and if he ditches her? Iona kind of becomes a sell-out when she starts dating a rich, preppy looking guy, and you can see the next ten years of her life like a moving picture in front of her—a kid, a house, certainly not her chic Chinatown studio. I had higher hopes for Iona. Does she know how to be Iona? Or is it easier to play a new role each day? She was better off smooching Duckie (and pondering if he practices on melons). But it’s also clear that she could learn a thing or two from Andi. And who knows, maybe she snapped out of it and eventually did.[caption id="attachment_6927" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Duckie and Andi at the prom[/caption]
So, Andi gives into the brouhaha of prom. It’s true. However, she makes her own dress, she decides to still go alone, even after Blaine dumps her, and when she arrives—there’s Duckie, looking dapper as ever. “May I admire you?” Andi asks Duckie, a question Duckie frequently adorns Andi with. Inside prom, Blaine has showed up after all—and dateless. He looks like a baby deer in headlights, but he’s finally pieced together that his buddy Steff, who’d been calling Andi “lowgrade” behind her back but kept insisting she give him a chance when he hounded her in private, was just mad he couldn’t have her—mad because he gets whatever he wants. Blaine does have good intention, but he doesn’t know how to break the cycle, because then he tries getting Andi back. He should have left it alone. But that’s the hunk of the meat in Hughes films—characters realizing important lessons.
Andi won’t let anyone tell her what’s best, make her feel cheap, dumb, used, or objectified. And when she’s standing under the prom lights while OMD’s “If You Leave” swells in the background, her broad shoulders finally fill with pride. Should Andi have stayed with Duckie? Why did she chase Blaine out to the parking lot—because he told her he loved her and looked so sad and regretful? For one, this is high school—we all know she and Blaine didn’t end up getting married and settling down. We know that Duckie remained her best friend long after the corsages came off. We know that Andi drove home at a reasonable hour and made sure her dad was OK. Andi taught me that it’s cool to just be yourself—however that looks, inside and out. If people think you’re weird or different—that’s honorable. If a lover doesn’t know your worth—that’s because they can’t possibly reach your higher self. Not everyone can be pretty in pink, just the ones who are proud to wear it.