When I learned that the 30th anniversary of Pretty in Pink is this year I was beside myself about the fact that it is briefly reappearing in theaters. I was only five years old on its original release date but days of video stores and VHS tapes in the 90’s allowed me to enter the imaginary world inhabited by several members of the ever famous Brat Pack. I immediately purchased a film ticket for Valentine’s Day with great anticipation of seeing it on the big screen.
Despite cool 90’s culture such as My So-Called Life and the ever popular Clueless, I thought Pretty in Pink was worth watching over and over again, which I did many times throughout college while in my father’s living room and lying on my friend’s dorm room floor wearing pajamas and wrapped in quilts during my Spring Break while she was in class. I loved the song "If You Leave" by OMD from the soundtrack and would listen to it often with my college best friend in his 1986 Buick Regal and on my own at night when I was writing in my journal instead of completing my homework.
In a perfect world I would be able to say that my obsession with the dynamics of the opposite sex friendship in the film stemmed from the fact that I mirrored Andie, the inimitable, smart and grounded senior in high school who was fancied by just about every male character with whom she crossed paths. But instead, in the friendship with my college best friend I was more like Duckie, the weird, ever fun loving, loyal friend who is dying to be loved by Andie, who is also his best friend, in a romantic sense but suffers due to unrequited love. It was a sad place to visit, both on and off-screen.
Regardless of that theme, Pretty in Pink still proves that although opposite sex friendships can be rocky at times no friendship that runs so deep is worth walking away from because in life you will only find so many people with whom you connect on that level. Andie and Duckie are each other’s lifelines, showing viewers that a friendship can still exist even when both parties are not on the same page as far as romantic intent. Sometimes all it takes is a detour before such a lesson can be fully realized and in my case, much regret for not being able to weather the storm such relationships require.
When the film opens the surrounding circumstances are made clear. Andie is a poor girl in a school populated by rich students who look down on her for her hand me down clothes even when she creates her own unique designs that demonstrate her talent beyond academia, another area where she excels. Duckie romantically adores her, their friendship of eight years, acknowledged in a later scene when the two of them are discussing graduation and upcoming days where they will no longer be around each other on a regular basis. He is unlike Andie in that he flunks his classes, and seems to have little of an identity other than wanting to be with her. While she has goals and aspirations to make it out of her poverty-stricken home, he has no plans for the future. The only signs of him existing in the present are defined by his friendship with Andie, something I could relate to in my own relationship with my college best friend.
I was eighteen years old when I met him at school through friends. He was a smart, driven man whose ambition for himself and for me woke me up. I wasn’t completely flunking out of school the way Duckie was but I did the bare minimum work-wise, living day by day through my packed social calendar that included weekend trips to New York City clubs such as Tunnel , long nights of watching television in the homes of various friends while eating McDonald’s, and doing foolish things that got me in trouble with the law such as being caught in Canada with a fake id that had me banned from the country for ninety days as well as getting a summons in a Brooklyn bar for underage drinking and having an official court date where the judge dismissed me with a stern warning. I was being reckless because I didn’t feel like anyone really cared about me and was using activities to distract myself from painful truths that related to the aftermath of my parents’ divorce. With my brother in recovery for drug use, my mom recently remarried and my father barely speaking to me, I felt totally alone.
In Pretty in Pink, little is known about Duckie’s family but viewers know that Andie was his family, similarly to the way my best friend became mine. Soon my party days were replaced by our movie trips, eating sandwiches at his parents’ house before we worked on homework and being included in all of their family activities. We would meet outside of school on lunch breaks, smiling just at the sight of one another before parading down the street planning our next adventure to the aquarium or taking a photograph with Santa Claus. His eldest sister described us as inseparable and we really were. Whenever anyone questioned our friendship such as my friends and girls he dated he would say, “Why can’t guys and girls be friends?’ and I agreed. We were a living example of such.
Andie and Duckie are often together too. Duckie is usually the one to initiate these connections but Andie loves the attention. He rides his bike past her house to be near her and shows up at Trax, the record store where she works. They are always glad to see each other, even if on occasion he is pushing her buttons by doing ridiculous things such as setting off the Trax store alarm. Andie is worried about his declining school performance and expresses that to him. She also says, “You know, I hope I’m not the only one in the world who knows what an incredible person you are.”
My best friend would encourage me to pursue my writing and told me he admired my courage, values and integrity, observations he’d made about me early on in our three year friendship. Halfway through those years my platonic feelings for him morphed into unrequited love but I kept silent about it, unlike Duckie who forever made jokes about how he loved Andie. He was also open with Andie’s father about his love for her, Andie’s father telling him, “You can love Andie, but that doesn’t mean she’s gonna love you back.” That was the type of conversation I never had with my friend or his parents, but occasionally at a family gathering his mother would wink at me because she knew I loved her son. Still he and I both chose to look away from our situation so if not to damage our friendship which he said was more than either of us had bargained for when we first met. There was so much joy in it- our conversations, support of each other’s endeavors and random moments such as a hug when a favorite song came on- that giving up that part of my life was not even a thought in my mind or heart.
In Pretty in Pink, Andie and Duckie were finally forced to confront the unrequited love that existed between them when Andie’s date arrives at Trax, a wounded Duckie saying, “You’re gonna go out with this guy?” He tells her, “Maybe for the first time in your life I won’t be there.” Andie is saddened and horrified by this prospect and Duckie’s response is, “Tough shit.”
I didn’t have that attitude when I reached my breaking point after my best friend met the love of his life but my façade of pretending not to love him finally came to the surface. One night I cried about it in front of him and ended our friendship. To date it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Afterwards I wrote in my journal that I knew my having done so was hurting him too even if it was in a different way than me. I had absolutely fallen to pieces from my own heartbreak and the pain it had caused him too. Yet nothing made more sense than trying to move forward and find out who I was outside of the friendship that in so many ways had saved me and carried me through a world that I knew would be terribly scary without him. I cried often that year because I wished things could have been different and as much as I had pushed him away the loss of his presence in my life along with the lack of proper closure was eating me. I wondered if there would ever be a day when it wouldn’t.
The running time in Pretty in Pink is only 96 minutes and it didn’t take long for Andie and Duckie to make amends. They greet each other on prom night with a hug. As friends, he wraps his arm around hers and they move forward. They forget the difficulties that separated them, showing that opposite sex friendships are possible, even in the face of unrequited love.
I’d like to say it was that easy to reunite with my own best friend but it wasn’t. It took ages for us to reach a good place again, one that I am inherently grateful for. Now, fourteen years after I pulled the plug on our friendship, we’ve still never really talked about it. We didn’t have some big scene where there were hugs, apologies and tears because we didn’t need one and also because like many things in life, the time for that type of conversation had passed. Like Andie and Duckie, one day by simply being around each other again, we both just understood. Recently, I struggled to skate and he reached out and took my hand, pulling me along the ice so that I wouldn’t fall. We’d lost the title of best friends long ago but somehow we still managed to make it beyond the standard running time.