'Pretty in Pink' Director Shares the Secret Formula For Coming-of-Age Films
Not every old movie is worthy of a #tbt. Xanadu, for instance—an unmistakable throwback, sure, but a #tbt? I think not. If 48 months of thumbing through velour-clad Raven-Symoné and a chillingly baby-faced Britney Spears have taught me anything it’s that—no, Xanadu is not worthy of a #tbt. You’re better off just throwing it—anywhere, really—than throwing back to it. Which brings me to Pretty in Pink.
Hard to believe now, drowning as we all are in a sea of coming-of-age films, but when Pretty in Pink came out in 1986, it was one of the first of its kind. Long before Virgin Suicides taught us that lethargy and nighties could be cool and Jennifer Love Hewitt gave us face dysmorphia, long before Clueless taught us to seductively furrow our eyebrows and Wes Anderson made a case for sepia-toned everything, a lip-biting, slightly taciturn and sheepish redheaded Molly Ringwald held boys and girls everywhere rapt.
And it’s in good company too; Pretty in Pink, along with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, all Home Alone movies, and Curly Sue were all written by the brilliant John Hughes, and went on to spawn a panoply of likeminded films. Yet it’s the myriad coming-of-age films that followed that have almost eclipsed the genius of Pretty in Pink.
At first glance, it’s all poufy hair, freckles, and unspeakable turns of phrase like “I’m off like a dirty shirt.” Peel back the pink tulle curtain, however, and you’ll find a remarkably nuanced film—one rife with tropes and quandaries so timeless that it continues to resonate today. And like a fine bottle of balsamic vinaigrette, it’s only gotten better with age—and is now, unsurprisingly, consecrated in the esteemed category of #TBT.
John Hughes may have written the storyline, but there’s only one man who brought Hughes’ vision to life—and that man is director Howie Deutsch. In the wake of Pretty in Pink’s 30th anniversary, we talked to Mr. Deutsch about the film that jumpstarted his career, how it feels watching it 30 years later, and why changing the ending was so critical to the success of the film.
So, you must be getting a lot of interviews now, with the 30th anniversary of Pretty in Pink just last month. What’s the best question someone has asked you in the last month or so?
There was a good question, I’m trying to remember… It had to do I think with how I felt about the ending, which we had to reshoot.
So I know in the original version Andie ended up with Duckie, and that you decided to change the ending because of the overwhelming response from test audiences to have Andie end up with Blane. Why do you think they had that response?
Because Andie wanted Blane, who was a cute boy, and I think most of the girls in the audience wanted her to get who she wanted. It’s that simple.
Is it true that you told Andrew McCarthy that Molly had a crush on him and vice-versa?
Yes, that’s true. When we were working, I thought that was the best way to get some electricity out of them.
So I feel like the ‘90s, at least in terms of romantic movies and rom-coms, was dominated largely by more escapist movies. And ‘80s movies seem to depict high school and love and all that stuff much more realistically. Do you agree?
You know, I don’t really feel it’s a generational thing. I think it’s a case-by-case writer situation. I mean, the teen movie, or any movie—the values of that script are based on what the writer’s point of view is. John had a great female voice. And also he was, I think, well thought-about, [even though] people mostly don’t think of him as a women’s writer. But I think he was a women’s writer, in much the same way as [Gene Kelly] was a women’s director.
“It’s[a journey] that all girls and all boys have to take. And that’s something an audience and the rest of us can always identify with.”
He had a great ability to write for women, and young women, when others didn’t. So, if you look at Sixteen Candles, and you look at Molly’s character, and also her point of view on the different obstacles she had to overcome, you see the story of the journey of a girl [becoming a] woman. It’s[a journey] that all girls and all boys have to take. And that’s something an audience and the rest of us can always identify with and relate to and get invested in, because it’s like our own lives.
In those stories—and [it’s] the same [for] Pretty in Pink—I think you, as an audience, not only are entertained, but you’re identifying with that character. And if you’re a woman, it becomes a much more empowering story when you see the decisions that John wanted that character to make. In the end, these characters discover that they can stand on their own, or that they’re worthy of love, or whatever [the story] is thematically about. But he was unusual in that way. He could write for both men and women, and there aren’t a lot, in my opinion, who had that talent.
Do you think Pretty in Pink is a particularly feminist movie?
Yeah, I think it’s pretty empowering, you know? It was, I think, ahead of its time in that way.
Did you have that in mind when you were making the film at all?
No, the values were John Hughes’ in the script. And he was always, I think, a bit ahead of the time on a lot of stuff. It was just his instinct; it wasn’t about trying to be politically correct.
If you could remake it today, is there anything you’d do differently?
Not really, no. I don’t usually look at my movies because I see all the stuff that I suffered through, or that I think could be better. [But] the other day I watched it. It was on TV and I watched it, and I hadn’t seen it in years, and I thought it was pretty good! I think it lived up. So, no.
What was it like working with John Hughes?
It was an honor. Because he, first of all, gave me my break—[it was] an enormous opportunity. And he was a genius. So I was very fortunate to be working with somebody who was that talented, and at the same time, in the same breadth, was a mentor and was generous to me.
Do you have any memories with him or of him that stick out to you?
I remember once—it was the original shooting of the ending. John was visiting the set. He wasn’t there a lot, but when he was there, we would definitely collaborate. We were staging a scene. I staged it and then I changed my mind. He said, “Okay, that works for me too.” And then I said, “No, no, I’m gonna go back this way.” And he said “Okay, that’s fine.” Then I said, “Nah, I’m gonna change it,” and I changed it, like, ten times. And finally he’s like, “You’ve gotta make a decision!” And I remember [it because] one of our favorite directors always said, “Any decision is better than no decision.”
What do you think it was about him, personally, that allowed him to tap into women’s psyche so well? Did he grow up with a lot of women?
He was an acutely sensitive, empathetic, super raw-nerved, exposed individual. And also frozen in time, in that high school era. He always, I think, identified with the underdog—always felt underappreciated or looked over. All of the things that most of us feel in high school, I think those things stayed with him.
What’s the hardest scene you’ve ever had to direct?
Well one of the more difficult scenes wasn’t [for] a movie, it was a television show called True Blood—and it was a dream sequence. It was a cold opening of a dream sequence with two of the stars of the show, Alexander Skarsgård and Ryan Kwanten. It was a dream of Ryan’s, [and in it] he’s having sex with Alex. It was a sex scene where they got naked and they were having sex, but the two actors in real life are straight. So it was a difficult scene for them and [for] me to figure out how to make sexy and erotic, but at the same time pull it off and make it good.
Well that’s what being an actor is all about, I imagine. What do you think is the most important skill for a director to have?
Patience. Patience and, I think, the ability to give the actor permission and love.
Stay tuned to Milk for more throwbacks worth celebrating.