What differentiates a cult film from the countless other movies released from Hollywood every year? Why do these movies stand the test of time and, more importantly, maintain fervent multi-generational followers? In this new series, Cult Film Crash Course, I’ll attempt to answer these questions about cult film qualities and more!
If any movie might be given the label ‘cult classic,’ it’s the 1986 comedy/drama film “Pretty in Pink,” starring Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy and James Spader. The story examines social dynamics familiar to high school students like social cliques and infatuation; however, the characteristic that won this movie the cult film title is its emotional vulnerability.
High school senior Andie Walsh, played by Ringwald, lives with her unemployed father in an impoverished Chicago suburb. Andie and her best friend Phil (played by Jon Cryer), also called “Duckie” throughout the film, battle the challenges of financial insecurity in a school of affluent students who have no problem verbally abusing the two for their thrifted outfits. Duckie is madly in love with Andie and has been for a very long time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t elucidate is feelings in time and when he does, Andie writes it off as a playful joke, consistent with Duckie’s normal disposition. Eventually, Andie becomes involved with Blane McDonough, a wealthy boy from the popular clique at school, played by Andrew McCarthy. Throughout the movie, viewers watch as Andie deals with difficulties with her father, still crippled with grief from his wife abandoning the family, and the boys vying for her attention, all while deciding whether or not she will attend the prom and who she’s going with.
In the beginning of the movie, Andie is rather submissive to the low blows and verbal abuses of the wealthy girls at her school. She seems to have accepted the lie that she is worth less than her peers due to her limited financial resources. Rather than standing up for herself, Andie absorbs their attacks and continues navigating through her life with these falsehoods in the back of her head.
Despite being somewhat submissive, Andie’s emotional strength is also made evident through her refusal to lower herself to the level of the catty girls at school. Furthermore, this emotional grit is confirmed through her relationship with her dad. With her dad’s inability to work after his wife’s departure, Andie is the sole provider for herself and her father — an immense burden on top of her schooling and emotional involvements.
Once Blane shows Andie attention, viewers can see a shift in her spirit. Though Blane’s friends constantly remind the two that they don’t approve of the relationship, the two quickly fall in love and Andie seems to understand that her worth is not tied up in material goods, but rather the substance of her person.
During a brief lapse in judgement, Blane gives in to the incessant mockery of his friends about the relationship and lies, saying he can’t go to the prom with Andie because he forgot he had already asked someone else. Andie’s insecurities are reaffirmed in her mind and, for a moment, she decides not to go to the prom at all.
Her emotions become more convoluted when Duckie renounces his friendship with Andie because she can’t reciprocate his feelings for her.
In another display of her emotional strength, Andie transforms her friend’s old prom dress and a gown her Dad purchased for her to create a beautiful pink gown that would have been rather edgy at the time of the movie’s release.
Andie arrives at the Prom stag and just as she is about to turn and leave, Duckie appears dressed in classic round sunglasses, a blue paisley tuxedo coat and a bolo tie. In a heartwarming moment, he sets aside his heart break for the sake of his friendship with Andie.
The two enter the prom where they find Blane, alone at the prom and regretful of his prior actions. In one final act of selflessness, Duckie sacrifices a night with Andie and encourages her to forgive Blane.
Blane’s character development shows that a lapse in judgement or a mistake are not always representative of the content of a person’s heart. Duckie shows viewers the beauty of sacrificial love and the importance of sacrificing one’s own desires for the benefit of those one cares for. Andie demonstrates the value of emotional strength and affirms the lesson that the only person who can determine your self worth is the person herself.
“Pretty in Pink” quickly became a cult classic because it doesn’t shy away from some of the common issues of young adulthood that can be difficult to discuss. Rather, it addresses them head on in a beautifully told story of love and personal growth.