Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful
After watching two to three festival films a day for a couple of weeks there’s nothing quite like lowering yourself into the soothing, revitalizing bath of a John Hughes film. But to a 20-something still struggling with their transition into adulthood, Hughes’ high school oeuvre evokes waves of nostalgia that have nothing to do with my actual teenaged years. Movies like Sixteen Candles(1984) and The Breakfast Club(1985) helped create a genre so bankable that it has hardly evolved since the mid-’80s. You can’t make a film about teenagers these days without addressing the Hughes influence. Even those who parody his movies are still, in some way, bowing to the mark they have left on the cultural psyche.
Pretty in Pink(1986) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)—both now available in special edition DVDs—were not actually directed by Hughes though. Hughes was a prolific writer, churning out scripts at an unrelenting pace. When he wrote Pretty in Pink, he offered it as one of a number of scripts to first-time director Howard Deutch, a kid who was putting together movie trailers at the time. Deutch went on to direct both Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. But as the commentary and special features for both films reveal, that doesn’t make these Deutch movies. As writer and producer, Hughes defined the direction, look and feel of both films. His was the vision; Deutch was merely trying to keep up.
All of this makes watching the commentary for Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful rather odd. Having a director walk you through the scene-by-scene decisions for a bubblegum movie is strange enough. By their very nature, the construction of movies like this aren’t supposed to be deeply pondered (when was the last time, for example, that you wondered long and hard about the lighting of a scene in The Breakfast Club?). But in the case of these DVDs, all Deutch can really say is that Hughes (or, in Pretty in Pink’s case, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto) made this decision and that decision.
But watching the films again hammered home just what a talent John Hughes was. Yes, the movies were saccharine enough to cause stomach rot. But they were also some of the first American films in which teens spoke on-screen about their problems in an adult way. Hughes had a real talent for channeling his inner 16-year-old girl.
What’s interesting about watching Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful back-to-back is that they are Hughes’ two attempts at making the same movie. As fans of the former (and vastly superior) movie know, Pretty in Pink was meant to end with Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (John Cryer) together. The script was written as an ode to the power of true love over the power of money. But when they screened the film to test audiences, people booed. They wanted rich boy Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and Andie together.
Duckie was originally slated to be played by Robert Downey Jr., an actor who might have brought a more adult humour and energy to the role. With Downey as Duckie it all might have made sense. Cryer’s Duckie, however, was more innocent and nerdy. For Andie to have ended up with him, Molly Ringwald explains in the new “Everything’s Duckie Edition” commentary, would have been akin to he hooking up with her younger brother.
Because it was Hollywood and test audiences matter, Hughes re-wrote the ending. Andrew McCarthy, who had shaved his head for a New York play, was given a wig and told to make-out like his life depended on it.
Audiences were happy, but Hughes wasn’t. While Pretty in Pink went on to make millions, Hughes sat down to write a script more true to his original intent. All he had to do was reverse the characters’ sexes, take away any serious spark between the Zoid (Eric Stoltz) and the Richie (Lea Thompson), make the Duckie character (Marie Stuart Masterson) a hottie, and blammo—the Cinderella story would be turned on its head. True love would win out.
Except Some Kind of Wonderful isn’t a very good movie. Not only is it shot like a Baby Blue soft-core porn film (with the soundtrack to boot!), but it’s got a wet dish rag of a script. The audience is never entirely clear exactly what motivates Eric Stoltz’s Keith. By the time he has blown his college savings, he and Hughes have lost us.
Listening to Deutch’s commentary (along with his seemingly vapid lead actress and wife Lea Thompson, who, it seems, doesn’t recall a thing about shooting the film), it’s clear he doesn’t think that much of it either. Pretty in Pink was clearly the high point of Deutch’s career. (His most recent “success” has been The Replacements.)
But these are teen movies. They’re the gummy worms of the cinematic pantheon. Why am I devoting this much time and space to them? This is what Special Edition DVDs do: they make you care about something you didn’t think you cared about. Something you swore you’d never care about.