“Blane! That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance!” — Duckie (Jon Cryer) in Pretty In Pink (1986)
Blane or Duckie? Duckie or Blane? Which one should Andi have gone to the prom with?
That’s the question at the heart of the 1986 film Pretty In Pink. In Susannah Gora’s excellent book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried (which, incidentally, has been an important source of information for this entire Back to School series of reviews), a good deal of space and debate is devoted to whether or not Andi (played by Molly Ringwald) should have ended up going to the prom with either Duckie (Jon Cryer) or Blane (Andrew McCarthy). What’s interesting is just how passionate the arguments on both side of the debate get. Those in the pro-Duckie camp, like producer Lauren Shuler Donner and director Howard Deutch, frame the debate as almost being a moral one. Those on the pro-Blane side — people like John Hughes (who wrote the film’s script) and Andrew McCarthy — make a convincing argument that the audience wanted to see Andie with Blane.
Perhaps most importantly, Molly Ringwald — who not only played Andie but upon whom the character was largely based — makes little secret of which suitor she preferred. Molly Ringwald is pro-Blane all the way.
Myself — well, I’m going to hold off on saying which side I come down on.
Both Blane and Duckie have their flaws and their strengths. Blane, for instance, comes from a wealthy family and spends too much time worrying about what his loathsome friend Steff (James Spader, who gives a wonderfully evil performance that justifies why he is quoted in Gora’s book as saying, “I figure I got a lock on this whole teen asshole thing,”) thinks. But, at the same time, Blane is obviously more sensitive than the rest of his rich friends. There’s a soulful sincerity to McCarthy’s performance and, until he breaks Andi’s heart by giving into peer pressure, he truly is every girl’s dream boyfriend.
And then there’s Duckie. As played by Jon Cryer, Duckie is the type of best friend that we all hope we’re lucky enough to have. You never have any doubt that he’ll always be there for Andie and it just takes one look at how he’s dressed to understand that Duckie doesn’t care about peer pressure. Duckie may be an outcast but, unlike Steff and Blane, he’s confident in himself. And whereas Blane is always wrestling with doubt, Duckie knows that he loves Andie. And if your heart doesn’t hurt a little when he confesses that fact to Andi, then you probably don’t have one to begin with. Add to that, as cute and charming as Blane is, you know he’d never break out into a random dance routine. Blane is no Duckie but, at the same time, Duckie is also no Blane.
And who Andie should take with her to the prom (or if she should even go at all) is an important question because, if anyone deserves to have the perfect prom, it’s Andie. Not only does she work hard to support her alcoholic and depressed father (the great Harry Dean Stanton) but she has great taste in music (or, at least, she does for someone living in the 80s) and she makes her own clothes. One reason why we love Blane is because he discovers that, even if Andie isn’t rich, she’s still the most interesting girl in the entire school. One reason why we love Duckie is because he didn’t have to discover this. He already knew it.
The film, of course, originally ended with Blane giving into peer pressure and canceling his date with Andie. Andie is heart-broken but refuses to surrender. Wearing the pink dress that she specifically made for the event, Andie still goes to the prom and, as the film ends, she shares a dance with Duckie, the one who, all along, loved her unconditionally.
As is recounted in Gora’s book, test audiences loved the movie but hated that ending. And so, a new ending was shot. Blane shows up at the prom without a date. He apologizes to Andie. He shakes Duckie’s hand. He tells Andie that he always believed in her, he just didn’t believe in himself. (Watching at home, Lisa says, “Oh my God!” and wipes away a tear.) As he leaves, even Duckie realizes that Andie belongs with Blane. Andie and Blane are reunited in the parking lot and Duckie goes off with Kristy Swanson.
And you know what? That ending — that ending is perfect. Because yes, Duckie did love Andie but Andie loved Blane and the prom is a time to be with someone who you think you’ll love forever. (Little realizing, of course, that you’ll eventually only think of your former prom date as being that guy who keeps inviting you to play games on Facebook.) Pretty in Pink is one of the most romantic high school movies ever made and one reason it works is because the ending is all about celebrating that romance. It may not be realistic and yes, it might even be borderline immoral to allow Blane to be so easily redeemed after breaking Andie’s heart but who cares?
The wonderful thing about romance is that it doesn’t have to make sense.
It just has to be.