Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back to the Brat Pack

I had a real blast from the past last weekend when I watched Pretty in Pink on HBO. I don't think I've seen that movie since 1986 (I didn't see it during the theatrical run, but I saw it that fall on video when they had a Molly Ringwald film festival in the dorm TV room). It came out in the spring semester of my senior year and was about the spring semester of the characters' senior year, so the characters are (theoretically) about the same age I am (in general, the John Hughes teen movies are about my generation). It was interesting seeing the contrast between then and now.

First, the cast. This seems to be where casting 20-somethings as teenagers really shows up because most of those people don't look anything like they'd be in the same age range with me, except maybe Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer. James Spader and Andrew McCarthy haven't aged too badly, but they definitely look older than around 40. The real shock was seeing Kate Vernon as a teen character after being so used to her as Ellen Tigh on Battlestar Galactica. She seems to be typecast as the bitchy slut. Oddly, Margaret Colin, who had a brief scene as a teacher, is the one who seems to have aged the best. She was playing an "adult" character (but probably wasn't much older than most of her co-stars) and now looks younger than most of the "teens" from the movie. One definite effect of the time warp came in the subplot with the Annie Potts character. Most of the movie, she wore outfits that were essentially period costumes, then at the end it's supposed to be a sign of growth when she dresses like a normal person. Except her "normal" outfit is such a stereotypically 80s outfit that she looks like she's wearing yet another period costume now.

I do find it amusing that the so-called "poor" girl had her own private phone line and answering machine and drove a cute classic car with a custom paint job. I was on the lower end of middle class in high school, and I definitely didn't have a private phone line (not that I would have gotten much use out of it, as I'm not a big phone person). We had one car for the entire family most of my high school years, and my poorer friends who did have cars had rather beat-up old 70s hatchbacks. Molly may have lived on the wrong side of the tracks (literally), but she didn't live or act like any poor kid I knew. Meanwhile, her fabulous, creative concoction of a prom dress was utterly hideous. She managed to take two reasonably cute dresses, cut them apart and put them back together as a big, shapeless sack, which is a crime against fashion. I remember being utterly disappointed in the big reveal of her "eat your heart out, rich boy" prom dress as a teen. All I could think was "I don't think that's going to have the effect you think it will have." The other dresses at the prom were very much like what was at my proms (and not too far from things I wore).

When I first saw the movie, I wanted Molly Ringwald to go for Duckie and not worry about the rich guy. I guess I was in a phase where I wanted my male friends to notice me as a girl. In my teen years, my Duckie equivalents were too busy chasing the Kristy Swanson girls to notice me, and the rich, cool guys who paid any attention to me turned out to have girlfriends I didn't know about, and they just wanted my help with their homework. As an adult, I found Duckie's behavior a bit disturbing and on the stalkerish side of things with some definite control/jealousy red flags, and I found Andrew McCarthy's shy/awkward/kind of dorky first attempts at talking to her utterly charming. There does seem to be a pattern in teen movies of the "hero" dumping the heroine before the big dance, then the friend steps in to help her save face, but then she ditches the friend at the dance when the hero comes to his senses. In this case, the friend pretty much ordered her to ditch him, but it's still not a very nice pattern of behavior. It makes everyone look bad.

Looking at the film as a writer, I was surprised by how weak the story and conflict really were. We never got much of an idea why Andrew McCarthy liked Molly Riingwald, and we never really saw why she liked him, other than that he was cute and rich (a similar problem with Sixteen Candles). We never got a sense of what drew them together in a relationship, other than that they were both straining against the expectations of their friends. They had one pretty disastrous date and one date that seemed to go okay before their relationship fell apart, which hardly seems like a tragic end of the world or a cause for them to declare their unending love for each other. And, really, in a Chicago suburb, was there nowhere else to go for a first date than a party with his friends or a club where her friends hung out? There were no restaurants or movie theaters, no arcades, no skating rinks? That seemed like manufactured conflict. As an adult, I couldn't bring myself to pull for them as a couple. It might have worked better if we'd had a chance to see their relationship develop a little before putting it to the test of their friends so they'd have a reason to be really torn when their friends wouldn't accept them being together.

I've seen all the other "Brat Pack" films repeatedly since the 80s, but this was the first one where I had such a huge gap in time. Oddly, it didn't make me feel too old, since I look better than most of those people do now (though it does help that the actors are all several years older than I am even if their characters would be my age). Now I need to see St. Elmo's Fire to see if I still dislike it. I last saw it in my very early 20s, when it was around the time I was the same age as the characters, and I found them all highly annoying. Will I be more sympathetic with the passage of time?

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