James Spader is Hot and Other Observations From Revisiting Pretty in Pink.
Watching Pretty in Pink as a grown-ass woman is a wholly unique experience.
In my teenage years, Pretty in Pink was the John Hughes movie I most identified with. On the working class theater nerd spectrum, I sat, with suspenders and bowler firmly on, somewhere between Molly Ringwald’s Andie and Jon Cryer’s Duckie. While I did not share the same obsessions as “The Duck Man,” his bouffant, bolo tie and loafers I could get on board with more than Andie’s penchant for the color pink and rich turds. I mean, who doesn’t want to be Duckie when he slides into Trax and sings Otis’ “Try a Little Tenderness” perfectly on cue? WHO. TELL ME.
Even as a young’un, I knew that like most Hughes movies the story was thin. Girl from other side of tracks and yacht jock overcome society’s judgment and live happily ever after — YAWN. But that’s not why most of us watch Hughes’ movies, right? We watch them because we find something in one or more of his characters that we can hold onto, relate to, empathize with. And Pretty in Pink is wholly relatable — even if you’re a dude with feather hair who buttons his shirt to his sternum.
I revisited Pretty in Pink last night because I needed a Harry Dean Stanton fix (rest in peace, you dear, beautiful man). Watching the film with grown-up eyes was an interesting experience. I saw poignant moments I never acknowledged before, and I saw politically incorrect Hughes tropes that Molly Ringwald herself has dissected in a remarkably well-written and introspective essay. But I don’t want to get into what Pretty in Pink gets right or wrong.
I want to discuss how it takes maturity to recognize how UNBELIEVABLY SEXY James Spader is as Steff.
I want to discuss how Annie Potts’ sage Iona is now younger than ALL OF US.
I want to discuss how Harry Dean Stanton brought his A-game to a throwaway role.
And I want to discuss how ugly Andy’s prom dress is.
James Mother F’ing Spader
When you were growing up in the 80s and James Spader slid into your movie, you were probably like, “Ugh. That smarmy asshole. Why does he keep showing up?” Then you became an adult and you were like, “HOT SHIT! It’s Spader. Come here, Poppa.”
Those are the words that left my mouth while viewing Pretty in Pink again. I must admit — I grew up in an anti-James Spader household. My mother HATED him — or at least his reoccurring persona as a smug prick. It wasn’t until I went to college and saw Secretary that I realized the man is as fine as brie cheese and sliced apples on baguette. I’m now pro-Spader. To quote Iona after Duckie kisses her, every time I see Spader my thighs go up into flames.
First, I want to discuss how Spader took a VERY one-dimensional, common character — the high school bully— and turned it into an Oscar-worthy performance. In our introduction, Spader’s Steff casually leans against Andie’s car, slowly pulls out a cigarette and calls her a bitch — taking the film from G rating to PG in a slow, methodical blink of an eye. He shows us he’s not playing around, and for the rest of the film he gives 150% to every stare, swagger and smirk. He’s the Marlon Brando of 80s assholes.
What strikes me most about Steff are the little things: his perfectly coiffed hair, his loafers, his untucked shirt, the way he looks like a 30-year-old stock broker creeping around high schools. I’d like to think that the director, Howard Beutch, let Spader add these nuances to the role. Take for example the way Steff throws in “Why don’t you go take a shower? You look like shit” as he walks away from a heated exchange with his best friend Blane. The line may be in the script, or maybe not. But the breezy, dead-eyed way he delivers this jab might have gone unnoticed from a lesser actor. Spader traps his words on his tongue and casually lets them slip out one by one, showing just how truly apathetic Steff is about everything. This apathy is met with a brilliant confidence seen in the way Steff walks with his hands in his pockets and calls his enemies “friend” or “buddy.” You love to hate Steff, and you hate to love him.
After the movie ended I thought to myself: I need to be more like Steff. Not in the treat-people-like-shit way, but in the I’m-going-to-wear-loafers-without-socks-and-walk-around-with-an-unlit-cigarette-dangling-out-of-my-mouth way. Because who doesn’t love someone who acts like they don’t give a flying f? Self-assurance is an aphrodisiac and Spader is the Greek God of Love.
Oh My God I’m Older Than Annie Potts Now
Like Spader’s Steff, Annie Potts’ Iona is one of the unsung heroes of Pretty in Pink. First of all, Potts is always delightful in anything she’s in. Second, Iona is arguably one of the stronger feminist characters in a Hughes’ movie (which isn’t saying much) due to her entrepreneurship, indie taste in music & decor, and bold outfit choices. Though she daydreams about her youth and finding lasting love, Iona marches to her own beat and you don’t get the impression that she’s particularly unhappy with her life. She just wants to share it with someone.
As I watched the film, I had the sneaking suspicion that the wise, older Iona was now younger than me. That suspicion proved correct and thrusted me into an existential crisis for the remainder of the viewing. Revisiting films in adulthood can be disorienting. One still views the characters and actors as older than you. When you realize half of the cast of Ghostbusters and almost everyone in The Big Chill were under the age of 35 during filming, it makes you want to write “WHY???” in anti-aging moisturizer across your bathroom mirror.
I have nothing else to add to this chapter of the essay other than I feel remarkably old now, thanks.
Harry Dean Stanton For the Win
I love HDS and I was super bummed when the iconic actor died in 2017. With over 200 credits under his belt, Stanton always gave it his all — even when he was just a bridesmaid. (The only two films he was the feature lead in were Paris, Texas and his last film, Lucky.) Like Steff and Iona, the role of Andie’s father, Jack, could have been forgettable. Sure the character had some development — he’s still in love with his ex-wife, he loves his daughter and he’s for some reason really lazy about finding a full-time job — but that’s about it. Jack solely exists to add complexity to Andie’s personal life and emotions.
The Brat Pack movies were about the Brat Pack. We weren’t meant to particularly care about anything other than the teens whose stories we were watching. Parents were expendable — except for Jack. Stanton, like in all of his films, added softness and tragedy to his character. We loved Stanton in every role because his hound dog eyes always suggested something deeper, yet we might not ever learn what that is.
In Pretty in Pink, the only time Jack shows his cards is when Andie calls him out on missing his job interview and still being hung up on her runaway mother. Jack goes from rage to tears in an instance. And though the dialogue is a Limburger style of cheese — “Because I love her, that’s why” — you believe this man’s pain because Stanton’s face is a road map of pain.
Pretty in Pink was lucky to have Stanton in it. Shit, any movie is. Alien, Wild at Heart, Repo Man, Big Love, The Green Mile were all better movies and TV shows because of that fine Kentucky man, God rest his soul amen forever.
Seriously What’s Up With Andie’s Dress?
I could write an entire essay on how Duckie is one of the best characters of the 80s, but it’s already been done. We all know he is the star of that film. So instead I’d like to talk about how hideous Andie’s prom dress is.
The girl is supposed to be a fashion wizard, right? I’ll give her Blossom-before-Blossom-existed outfits credit. They’re fun and quirky and I see a lot of hipster gals wearing those granny styles now. But that prom dress? Girl, you should have left it the way your daddy gave it to you. It was at least fitted and not a glittery potato sack.
I know we often look back on prior fashions and go “What the hell were they thinking?” but seriously. What the hell was the costume designer thinking? Poor 18-year-old Ringwald looks like gravity failed her. The rest of the fashion in the movie slays and the ending makes you question everything you’ve ever thought about Andie. She’s now a completely unreliable character due to this unfortunate fashion choice. Andie really should have passed that one through her style team of Duckie & Iona before giving it a go.
I’ll be curious how I feel about this film in another 20 years. By this time I will be Andie’s Dad’s age and I might have a child of my own. If I do have a child, I will tell him or her to be like Duckie. Life’s too short not to be yourself, and bolo ties are an excellent fashion accessory.