Is there anything less promising than the phrase “A novel based on the original screenplay by…”? Perhaps even less so when that phrase is followed by “John Hughes”?
Let me get my personal bias out of the way: these are films that have not aged well. Actually, that is being charitable and assuming that they were any good in the first place. Watching them as an actual teenager, they always left me with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction; as an adult I just find them to be bizarre exercises in how coked-up middle-aged Hollywood movie executives thought that teenagers must have acted: like coked-up middle-aged Hollywood movie executives. And that’s when they’re not just aggressively stupid (Sixteen Candles, I am looking at you).
So how did I even end up with a copy of A Novel Based On The Original Screenplay By John Hughes? THE INTERNET! IT IS THE FAULT OF THE INTERNET! I was buying copy of Jonathan Bernstein’s encyclopedia of teen movies of the 1980s, which is also called Pretty in Pink, and Amazon’s internal voo-doo machine suggested that I might also care to purchase a copy of A Novel Based On The Original Screenplay By, and I clicked on the link and saw that A Novel Based On The Original Screenplay By was written before they reshot the ending of the movie at the behest of the preview audiences. But we’ll get to that in good time…
The Plot: Do we really…? Ok: Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald in the movie) is poor. Super-poor. Like, she has to drive a Kharman Ghia to school and make her own clothes out of lace doilies. She spends her school days being aggressively admired by her childhood friend Duckie Dale (John Cryer, the only person that acts like an actual human teenager) and harassed by creepy sexual predator Steff McKee (James Spader) and his cadre of mean-girl “Richies” who have names like Benny and Chessy. Fact: this is a universe in which nobody has a normal name like Holly or Jessica or Stanley Crandall. For reasons that are never fully explained, Andie attracts the attention of Richie-dude Blane (Andrew McCarthy) who asks her out, crushing love-struck Duckie, who has JUST THAT MINUTE turned in a virtuoso lip-synch performance of “Try a Little Tenderness”.
Blane takes Andie to a Richie party which is really decadent and full of 45 year old-looking teenagers running around in tennis whites. Andie takes Blane to her favorite terrible night club, which he hates. Everything is terrible! Blane asks her to the prom anyway, which is apparently THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT NIGHT OF YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. Then he gets peer-pressured by Steff and un-asks her because he is a coward. Andie sews together two prom dresses into one hideous outfit and goes to the prom anyway, where she and Duckie reconcile and…
This is where Movie and Novel Based On The Original Screenplay By diverge.
But first, a few things. The first being that all of the adults are way more obsessed with the prom than the teenagers are, which is weird and creepy. The NBOTOSB (I can’t keep typing it out) even includes a bonus-creepy scene in which Andie’s sad-sack dad (played by Harry Dean Stanton in the movie, who, to be fair, is incapable of turning in a performance that is less-than-super-creepy) goes to TJ Maxx to buy her a prom dress and makes the salesgirl model it for him. Um… I’m pretty sure that no discount clothier pays their employees enough to get leered at by Harry Dean Stanton.
Not only are the teenagers all running around dressed like Tom Wolfe and drinking scotch, but they are also called upon to be the voice of reason for the adults in their lives. In the movie Andie chastises her father for not getting over her long-departed mother (in the NBOTOSB, we learn that Mom was a Richie who couldn’t deal with being married to a steelworker) in a cringe-worthy scene he declares that he “has been a blind fool” and vows to get his life together and finally get a job. This scene does not, thankfully, appear in the NBOTOSB, although at one point when he’s freaking out about Blane not taking her to the prom for the fortieth time that day, she does have to step in and remind him “It’s only high school.” We also learn in the NBOTOSB that he will not be “going to see the lady about the job” as he promises in the movie, but instead sets a more manageable goal of getting through the summer, until Andie takes her scholarship and heads off to college on the east coast, after which he plans on becoming a full-time hobo.
As we all know, in the movie, Blane apologizes for being a huge jerk and leaves; the suddenly-omniscient Duckie tells Andie that Blane has come to the prom alone and that Blane is “not like the others” and urges her to chase after him, which she does, they kiss and OMD’s “If You Leave” takes us to the credits.
This ending was tacked on after the original tested badly with preview audiences. Apparently, the NBOTOSB had already hit the presses with the movie went into retakes, so in an ending that must have surely confused teenaged movie-goers of 1986, Blane shows up at the prom with Richie Kate (ok, that is a pretty normal name, actually) and sees but does not speak to Andie, who is last seen rapturously dancing with Duckie, “one whirling, smiling, laughing blur of pink”. Good for them, I hope those crazy kids enjoy their few months of happiness before Duckie discovers he is gay (possible) or Andie discovers he’s insufferable (probable) (although to be fair at least it is hinted throughout the NBOTOSB that Andie like-likes him, while Blane is only a momentary distraction).
But that is not the biggest difference between movie and NBOTOSB! The biggest difference? Steff’s unrequited love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name for Blane! James Spader definitely does not constantly call Andrew McCarthy “babe” in the movie. Steff does not seem to have panic attacks at the thought of he and Blane going their separate ways after graduation or Blane skipping out on their skiing trip to Chile to be with Andie. When Andie confronts Blane in the movie she definitely does not spit out “You’re afraid of losing Steff!” as the worse possible insult she can come up with. And certainly, the movie does not end with Steff moping, staring longingly at Blane while thinking “this might be the worse night of his life. First he lost Andie to Blane, his best friend. Of course, now he’d lost Blane too.”
Aww, poor Steff. It really makes you wish for some hot Spader-McCarthy action. Mostly because that sounds like a way better movie.
Product Placement Department: Non-stop Hi-C juiceboxes. I’m relieved that The Duckman is not at risk for scurvy.
Inside Joke Department: “If there was one thing she didn’t need today, it was another run-in with another Richie, another well-planned casual encounter with the arrogant leader of the Lakefront brat pack.”
Sign it was written in 1986 Department: “She was copying down statistics when suddenly her source feed was interrupted. A new message- a pirate message- appeared on her screen.”