Alright, so before I start writing here, let’s be very, VERY clear on one thing: I’m aware that there are people out there who will rip me to literal shreds if I say even one bad thing about this film. I mean, I know that’s true for basically any film on this blog, but in this case it’s different because there are actual real-life FEMINISTS out there* who will hate me if I say that I don’t actually think this film is The Second Sex for the digital age.
Is it a feminist film? Well- let’s put this clearly. I would actually quite like to have a chart here to explain how I feel about this film, so let’s see- CAN WORDPRESS ACTUALLY DO SUCH A THING**?
Right then. That idea’s officially in the bin.
The thing is, I have quite complex feelings about this film. On the one hand, the plot is essentially that a girl “from the wrong side of the tracks” wants to go to the prom with a rich boy, and that girl- Andie- is one of the coolest female characters I’ve ever seen in a film from the 80s (not that impressive a title anyway, but anyway. Never mind.) She’s odd and interesting and kind, but also feisty and truculent- all qualities that a good teenage girl character (and teenage girls in general, in fact) should possess. Best of all, where the other girls are wearing more typical 80s clothes, Andie is a gloriously weird dresser- not only is she rarely without some strange and frankly unnatural-looking hat, but she also makes her own prom dress by cutting up the prom dress her dad bought her (Andie’s dad: “Oi!”) and the prom dress her friend lent her (Andie’s friend: “Oi!”) and this dress is absolutely, no two ways about it, HIDEOUS. It is HORRIBLE. If it wasn’t so cool that Andie makes it and loves it, I would say that that dress has been etched into my mind forever, and that for weeks after I saw this film, every time I closed my eyes, I saw it (for the record, this is still true.) So Andie’s pretty awesome- and so is Iona, her significantly older best friend and general advisor on life in general. She’s played by Annie Potts, who you DEFINITELY remember from Ghostbusters (the 80s version AND the 2016 version) even though she only had, like, two lines in each. Here she is given significantly more scope as one of the only two people in the film who dresses even more crazily than Andie*** (the other one is her friend Duckie, who we’ll get to in just a second) (unfortunately), and also supports Andie through all that weird teenage-y high-school stuff. Andie herself knows exactly what she wants and does what she wants, and when people try to hold her back- the moronic Steff, for instance, who appears to have an enormous yellow cat**** on his head with its tail trailing down his neck, or her jerk of a popular boyfriend (who we will also get to later- it’s pretty bad, but when talking about feminism we kind of have to talk about the idiots as well as the awesome people)- she fights them for her right to make her own choices.
So- unfortunately, on to the less feminist aspects of this film. The plot is sweetly simple- as mentioned before, a girl wants to go to a prom with a boy- and therefore the space that might otherwise have been taken up with complicated plot twists is used instead for complicated emotional entanglements between the characters. As also mentioned before, Andie wants to go to the prom with Blane, who is rich and SUPPOSEDLY one of the biggest 80s teen heartthrobs ever, also to be honest I can’t really see it. Despite the fact that he’s a bit of an idiot (he invites her to the prom and then changes his mind and invites someone else instead. Awkward!), Andie really likes him and this is all a part of her policy of making choices for herself and only herself. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go down so well with her friend Duckie, a strange, short Elvis impersonator with ridiculous clothes and a habit of harassing girls who wouldn’t give him a second glance, and who is also ostentatiously ‘poor’ (he is shown in the film sitting on a bare mattress in an empty, graffiti-covered room, looking sad, which is what being poor looked like in the 80s) and so automatically disapproves of Blane. Actually, the main reason he disapproves of Blane is the more romcom-appropriate fact that he likes Andie, too. Andie- somehow, for no obvious reason that one can tell- likes and respects Duckie, but she doesn’t like him in “that way”. (No wonder- although Duckie has his moments of sweetness, most of the time he’s not just faintly ridiculous, but actively stupid. They’d make a terrible couple. More about the general compatibility of the characters in Pretty in Pink in just a second.) The main problem with this film is, as with so many awkward 80s films, not the specific attitudes of the characters, but more the general attitude of the film, which is that harassment is okay- even cute, when it’s coming from the ‘adorable’ weird boys you’re supposed to be rooting for. Even though, in my case at least, if I was given the choice to go to prom with Duckie or some other fairly unpleasant characters… hmm. This kind of represents it:
Duckie’s chat-up technique: Leering up to some random girls in the school hallway and saying: “Ladies. I may be able to work out a deal where either one or the both of you could be pregnant by the holidays.” EEEWWWW
Danny Ocean’s chat-up technique: Referring to the object of his attentions as, quite literally, an object, which he owns/ turning up when she goes on a date with someone else and telling her that she should be with him instead (this one always works, guys! Try it for yourself!)/ putting phones in her pocket and ringing them. *Actually less eeewww*
Mr Collins’s chat-up technique: Wanting to propose to someone who’s pretty much already engaged, and then changing his mind and telling Elizabeth ” You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there not been this little unwillingness… Almost as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life” *Still less eeewwww*
So. Glad we’ve got that sorted. I’ve got one last thing to say about this film in terms of feminism, but I’ll leave it till the end of the post so that I can end on a positive note. So you are NOT ALLOWED to stop reading before then. It is FORBIDDEN and you MAY NOT DO IT. I’m not going to tell you what will happen to you if you do because I already covered that in the footnote in my post on Warcraft: The Beginning.
Is it disturbing? Look, one of the promises I make on this blog is that, along with (mostly) a lack of spoilers and lots of ranting about feminism (and I can DEFINITELY guarantee that!), I will also always give you a warning if a film contains terrifying 80s hairstyles. Well, this is that warning! Sound the klaxons! Someone, set off the alarm! EVERYBODY OUT OF THE BUILDING! THE 80s HAIRSTYLES ARE COMING TO KILL YOU. THEY WILL STRANGLE YOU WITH THEIR LONG, MULLET-Y STRANDS.
And… does it pass the Bechdel test? Most assuredly! Andie and Iona have loads of conversations about stuff other than men, which is really great. Congrats, Pretty in Pink!
Right. This is the one thing I wanted to say before. Apparently this film originally ended with Andie realising that Blane was shallow and superficial, and ending up with Duckie instead, because he “truly” (moronically) “loved” (harassed) her. But then when they tested the film out by showing it to a whole bunch of teenage girls- GO, 80s TEENAGE GIRLS!- they all agreed that she should end up with Blane instead. I’d like to think that this is because they could see that Andie didn’t really like Duckie, whereas she really did like Blane- although it may just have been that Blane was such a ‘heartthrob’ that they couldn’t conceive of him not being the love interest. Anyway, the result was the same: the ending was rewritten and refilmed, meaning that there’s this really weird cut between the suddenly-I-realise-you’re-my-soulmate moment between Duckie and Andie and the suddenly-I-realise-that-you’re-my-soulmate moment between Andie and Blane. The filmmakers were very unhappy about this ending, but the teenage girls liked it and this makes me happy because it’s not often that things change just so that teenage girls can be happy. Hadley Freeman wrote a very smart piece about this in her book Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore), which I seriously recommend you read as it’s really good and also really funny. She connects the idea of Andie ending up with someone she doesn’t love- ie, Duckie- to the fact that Andie’s father was deserted by Andie’s mother because she didn’t really love him (especially as Duckie gets a girlfriend in the last few moments, who, adorably, is credited as “Duckette”. OH MY GOD.) “Women should not get together with nice men if they don’t actually love them,” she (Hadley Freeman, not Duckette) says. “That is a too little noted but important message.” She also says that she didn’t mind that Andie ended up with Blane, because “After all, why shouldn’t the awkward girl get the beautiful boy if that’s who she lusts for?”
*Shout-out to all feminists who like Pretty in Pink! If you are a feminist who likes Pretty in Pink– congratulations! You have earned my respect in a way that a feminist who likes, say, The Devil Wears Prada (in my opinion, not even a possible thing- it would be basically saying “I’m a feminist who likes sexism”) never could. If YOU happen to be that mythical beast- ie, a feminist who likes The Devil Wears Prada– please send me a long and detailed psychic message explaining why. I would be happy to hear from you.
**No, it can’t!
*** Iona’s the one on the left.
**** Before settling on the term “enormous yellow cat”, I tried browsing the internet to try and find an animal that looked exactly like Steff’s “hair”. I didn’t find a better one, but I DID find out about purple squirrels, which are apparently squirrels which have a weird colour mutation and have been sighted in 1997, 2008, 2012 and 2016. Whether or not you believe this is a test for how gullible you are- and I- the person who actually, bona fide believes that ‘gullible’ is, in fact, written on the ceiling- appear to be very gullible! Big surprise there! PURPLE SQUIRRELS ARE A THING. I HAVE BEEN CONVERTED. LOOK IT UP.