Given the economic turmoil of the 1980s, PRETTY IN PINK is very much a product of its environment. Girl meets boy who is of a higher class than she is. Girl is embarrassed at her lack of money, and boy is overly concerned with what his rich friends think of his relationship with her. They break up, but in the end, girl and boy reunite at the high school prom while Oingo Boingo plays. There is a bit there in the middle where girl almost falls for her loyal friend who is both dedicated to her and in the same socioeconomic class. That ending, however, did not test well with audiences and the ending was reshot to include the poor girl getting the rich boy.
Though it would be the last time they worked together, PRETTY IN PINK cemented Molly Ringwald (the aforementioned “girl” named Andie) and writer John Hughes as the key players in the Brat Pack, and in defining a generation of teenage girls’ objects of affections. So much has been written about Andie’s relationships with both Blaine (Andrew McCarthy as the rich boy) and Duckie (Jon Cryer as the amicable admirer). And while these relationships feature heavily in the film, when I watched the film as a kid I was so much more focused on Andie’s relationships with both her father (veteran actor Harry Dean Stanton) and her boss at the record store, Iona (played by Annie Potts before transforming into a Designing Woman).
Andie and her father have a more complicated relationship than most. Still in high school, Andie is also the de facto breadwinner of the house when the film opens. Her father is between jobs, and though they clearly need the money, he struggles to get his act together. Frustrated by his lack of action, Andie accuses her father of not being able to move on with his life after her mother left them. With Andie being more of an adult than her own father, the typical power dynamic between parent and child is skewed. Andie comes and goes as she pleases, and is much more independent than a typical teenager. She also takes care of her father and confides in him about dating and boys. They share an emotional closeness rarely seen between fathers and daughters on the big screen. And born out of that closeness is an essential part of Andie and her father’s relationship—the amount of trust they have with one another. He is unable to provide for her financially, but he can support her emotionally. They operate almost as equals, both trying to pull each other through these tough times.
Andie’s relationship with her employer Iona is also satisfying to watch. Iona owns the small record shop where Andie works. Quite the eccentric character herself, Iona’s look changes each time we see her, and can range from New Wave to preppy to even wearing a sixties style beehive. Iona enjoys running the record shop and acts as a surrogate big sister to Andie. They go to clubs together after the shutting down the shop and even trade clothes. As a young girl watching PRETTY IN PINK I could only dream of having my teenage years filled with a boss as cool as Iona. Yes, having both Duckie and Blaine lusting after me would have been nifty too, but the bond that Andie and Iona have is the relationship in the film that never causes either of them strife. It builds both of them up.
Ultimately Andie’s father and Iona become the fabric by which Andie builds her future. As in, they each give her a dress that Andie then disassembles and use to build into her dream prom dress. Without the support or more literally the materials from Iona and her father, Andie would not go to her prom. Blaine invites her, and Duckie escorts her to the dance, but it is her father and Iona who know what Andie needs to actually get to prom on her own terms. As Andie is walking down the hallway to the dance and is struggling with her decision to enter the room, we can see the contributions from Iona and her father that made it possible for her to be strong enough to go to prom.
While I do find it problematic to have the prom portrayed as the climax of a life as multifaceted as Andies’, this interpretation of what prom represents for Andie makes it a little easier for me to stomach. It is not simply the status symbol of her getting the guy. Instead, Andie’s triumph over all of the factors that have held her back are what make her entrance in the prom so pivotal. Winning back Blaine is nice too, but that is not why she is there. Had she left that prom on her own it would have been a triumph all the same.