Still Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink turns 30 on Sunday. It is a contender for the title of my All-Time Favorite Movie. It definitely wins the 80s era.

As I get older, I view the movie in terms of the classic Team Duckie vs. Team Blane debate – as if there were one (Duckman for life!). But on first viewing, at age 12, I fell immediately and madly in love with Andie.

 My 30-year-old memory is fuzzy. I believe I had been introduced to Molly Ringwald before, whether I’d watched all of her 1984 ingénue debut in Sixteen Candles or her turn in a star-studded Breakfast Club the next year. I have great appreciation for both those movies and their red-headed, pouty-lipped star. My adulation for Ms. Ringwald, which I would later realize began with Facts of Life, stretched to 1988 and an in-theater viewing of Fresh Horses, which, let’s just say, did not recreate the Molly Ringwald/Andrew McCarthy magic.

But there was something about Andie Walsh. The way the math lines up, I would have been six months into seventh grade, with a firsthand understanding of the alienation Andie personified with such style. I identified instantly with the unconventional teenager from the wrong side of the tracks.

Andie’s life was largely about seeking refuge, from both her home life, coated with a pall of sadness, and from the everyday torture of high school hallways. She wore her outsider status like a bad-ass coat decorated with badges of pain and angst that made her infinitely more interesting than the paper dolls surrounding her.

Andie’s job at Trax, the impossibly cool record store where she hung out with Duckie and Iona (whom I would later come to adore as Mary Jo Shively on my favorite TV show of the 90s), seemed the Holy Grail of after-school employment. I aspired to something similar, to wandering aisles stuffed with albums and papered with stickers, somewhere odd and quirky where I would fit in seamlessly among the weirdness.

I loved Andie’s sassy short red hair; her eccentric – “volcanic,” Duckie would say - wardrobe accentuated by a hand-stitched lace collar, a tapestry vest, or an unexpected strand of pearls;  the sinuous side eye preceding a perfect eye roll. I loved, I would come to realize, her self-sufficiency, her slightly sugared fuck-off vibe, the unshakable sense of self that shivered but ultimately held strong in the face of those whose shiny veneers masked a complete lack of same.  

The polka dot-and-lace prom dress Andie fashioned for herself is dated and ill-fitting in 2016, but when I first saw her emerge from her room wearing it, I thought it was the coolest, most original garment on the planet. The way the sheer pink lace lay against her collarbone, drawing your attention to lips tinted a slightly darker shade, was perfection.

The most iconic line, to me, in the movie is delivered by Andie while wearing that dress. Explaining to her father why she’s going to the prom by herself, Andie says, “I just wanna let them know that they didn’t break me,” just as the downbeat to OMD’s If You Leave drops. Something inside my adolescent chest loosed as other inner workings sprang to their feet and cheered.

I had lived that line on a daily basis. I had challenged myself, facing my Mary Kay eyeshadow caddy in the morning, to wear the purple with the green if I wanted to, because I somehow knew the act was more important than the derision it would inevitably inspire. I had walked down a hallway to a wildfire of whispers or – worse – complete, calculated silence. I had heard an assembly of hundreds laugh, uproariously and in unison – at me.

Andie didn’t break. Odds were I wouldn’t either.

There are so many things to love about Pretty in Pink. Duckie, for an obvious one. His black bowler and John Lennon glasses, unsure if he’s emotionally ready for class. His pompadour preening above his popped collar and bolo tie. The sideways smirk he gives Blane – whose name does sound like an major appliance and who shows up at prom looking like a waiter in his white jacket – as he shakes his hand. His tender heart, not at all protected by his barbed-wire sarcasm fence.

Spiky-haired and leather-clad Iona, not so adult that she’s lost either her coolness or her empathy. Sad-eyed and soul-shattered Jack Walsh, fighting for the courage to uncage his love for his daughter. And of course Steff McKee, dripping the smarmy Spaderness that may indeed make him a piece of shit, but a piece of shit with a magnetic pull.

I met Molly Ringwald a few years ago at the Miami International Book Fair. She was promoting her book, When It Happens To You, which I found insightfully detailed. She read a particularly affecting excerpt, about a transgender child trying to be herself in a less-than-receptive world.

A little, I thought, like Andie. Like me. Like anyone who hasn’t fit in, and hasn’t necessarily wanted to.

The post-reading Q and A got off to a rocky start when some nimrod opened with a question about Blane, as McCarthy was also promoting a book at the event. Ringwald gave one of her trademark eye rolls at that, but answered the ones that followed, including mine about how much her acting informed her writing and vice versa, thoughtfully and honestly.

The signing was a bit of an assembly line, with one of the businesslike women stationed on either side of her frowning as I sneaked a quick picture. It was understandable – Ringwald was probably the biggest name there that day, and she was busy, adding author and jazz singer to her resume.

When we reached her, my then 13-year-old stepdaughter unleashed a torrent of words about how much she loved Pretty In Pink, which we’d recently watched. Ringwald, the angles of her face a little different from Andie’s but her lips ever the same, was pleasant and gracious. She asked how old Maddie was, and upon receiving the answer, said, “That’s a great age to see that movie.”

True. So was 12, and so is 42.

Happy birthday, Andie.