Friday, October 21, 2005

Picked Flicks #99: The Breakfast Club & Pretty in Pink

Restoring a little balance of power to the universe, and knocking me right off of The Piano Teacher's high-art pedestal, here are the two films from the John Hughes factory that double-double my refreshment every time I pull them off the shelf. I find it impossible to choose between The Breakfast Club, which Hughes directed from his own script, and Pretty in Pink, helmed by the otherwise dubious Howard Deutch. I saw The Breakfast Club when you're really supposed to, i.e., when you are roughly the same age or, better, just barely younger than the characters in the movie—from which vantage Hughes' empathetic grasp of high-school anhedonia is all the more rewarding and exciting, and also nicely tempered by a fair grasp of each character's naïveté and inadequacy. Gorgeously, and infectiously, the movie finds all of its adolescent leads in a gently embellished free-zone between the mess that real people are in high school and the stabler, frankly nicer people that Andy and Claire and Bender and the rest will palpably become later in their lives, given just a little bit of breathing-room to grow up and get over themselves. That said, I sure hope that Ally Sheedy's Allison, by far my favorite character, will forever continue to make her dandruff-derived objets and her all-carbs all-the-time sandwiches. Also priceless: Anthony Michael Hall's shambling diffidence, so hard-fought but so hilariously ill-concealed, and Judd Nelson's marvleous line reading of the single word "Claire," turning the name into some sort of insolent question.

The Breakfast Club is snappily written, crisply defined, and cleverly art-directed, and in terms of pacing, it couldn't work better. Even the precipitous couplings at the end, some of them real head-scratchers, actually help the movie: we don't leave with any false sense that anything has been fixed or made permanent, and the excitement of making right and wrong choices at the same time is preserved. Pretty in Pink, a much more sober film however poppy it also is, gets a similar boost from what seem like errors. Andie's romantic trajectory just isn't what we expect, and the widely circulated reports of last-minute script changes augment the climactic sense of compromise. But Andie's compromises were always what was most interesting about her, right alongside her winning and utterly believable rapport with her kindly burned-out dad and the limpid, hugely gratifying accessibility of Molly Ringwald across her whole performance. Pretty in Pink starts and ends in imperfection—nicely if unintentionally underlined by the fact that Andie's "do it yourself" prom dress, which occasions her happy ending, is actually, let's be real, quite unflattering. The movie is poignant even when it's funny, funny even when it's angry ("WHAT about PROM, BLANE??!"), and enormously embraceable. It lacks, mercifully, any Long Duck Dong instance of mean and boring stereotype, and in the hands of D.P. Tak Fujimoto—later a godsend to The Silence of the Lambs and The Sixth Sense—the movie doesn't look bad, either. The Psychedelic Furs sound almost as techno-thrilling on the Pink soundtrack as the Simple Minds do on The Breakfast Club's. So riddle me this: why can't these movies get any respect? (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great picks, Nick. It's about time someone recognized how good these movies are. But the soundtrack version of "Pretty in Pink" was the beginning of the end for the Psychedelic Furs, who had been a really good, punky New Wave band until this. Their original version is infinitely better. (There are interesting parallels between the success of "Don't You Forget About Me" and "Pretty in Pink" and their writers' ambivalence about them.)

3:46 PM, October 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THe Breakfast Club is definitely in my personal Top 15, Pretty In Pink around #80 and Sixteen Candles around #90. I saw them all when I was at the age of those characters (despite only being born in 1985) so it's a testement that they still work today.

Excellent choice.


4:39 AM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Goatdog: That sound you hear is me, fast hitting the ceiling of my punk/New Wave knowledge. Didn't know about the "Pretty in Pink" dust-up - good to have friends in the know! I know that Simple Minds turned down the "Breakfast Club" gig several times before finally relenting and doing the song, and I'm sure they hate that it's the chief reason why bourgeois surburban dorks like me know who they are, but I still say it's a great song. ;)

@Glenn: Thanks for sharing the enthusiasm--and for making the puddle-jump over from Nathaniel's site. It's nice to see your name pop up here. I've never made it all the way through Sixteen Candles, but at some point, I'll give it a fair shake. (Long Duck Dong was just too much for me, when I first tried to watch it. At a slumber party. In college. Ahem.)

5:19 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger Jill said...

Well, I was a bit OLDER than that bunch, but then, I extended adolescence far beyond its chronological limits. In fact, you could argue that as the Oldest Living Green Day fan, I've never grown up at all.

For me PinP is memorable for a number of things: 1) it first showed me that sometimes the dorky guy can be more desirable than the pretty one (not that I acted on that knowledge, mind you, I just happened to find a trash culture mutant who just happened to be gorgeous in the bargain); 2) the marvelous Annie Potts; and 3) it was where I first knew that James Spader was my One True Love.

Which shows you just how fucked up I was in my 20's....

6:52 PM, October 27, 2005  

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