Pretty in Pink and(Paramount Home Entertainment, 8.29.2006)
Some Kind of Wonderful
To be honest, John Hughes never really did it for me. As frivilous entertainment, his films sometimes work, but there's a whole generation of thirtysomething filmmakers named Kevin (ie. Kevin Williamson, Kevin Smith) who insist on portraying him as some kind of visionary artist, which I simply cannot wrap my head around. His movies always made teenagers feel like they were in touch with something beyond themselves, some sense of art, literature, and philosophy. But on this level, Hughes's movies were pretty routine, if not completely clueless, reveling as they did in the most accesible, lightweight, poppy version of all things "artistic." John Hughes was all about unthreatening, palatable rebellion ("rebellion light"). When an awareness of this pose crept into his scripts -- as it did in The Breakfast Club -- his movies excelled but, in the hands of Howard Deutch, Hughes's sensibility lost most of its specificity and drifted into the excesses normally associated with mid-80s Simpson/Bruckheimer. If there's one moment in these two movies that wasn't test-screened within an inch of its life, I can't find it.
The fallacy of these two movies -- and all John Hughes teen movies, to some extent -- is that they respect teenagers. In fact, they pander to teenagers, indulging their fantasies and ignoring real world realities in favour of perpetuating an infantile perspective on high school life. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but deciding not to go to college because you have a crush on a girl is a bad idea, no matter what New Order song is playing in the background. It works out pretty badly every time. Yet Hughes insists on re-enforcing these misguided stereotypes.
Admittedly, Hughes's intermittent ear for fresh alterna-pop and frisky dialogue separated his films from most sub-par teen movies of the '80s, but his films weren't necessarily the decade's most vital teen films either (I'd nominate Valley Girl for that honor). Hughes had a tendency to define characters in generalities and lay out conflict in an uninspired, functional, TV-like fashion. The films he directed were redeemed by a degree of visual style -- particularly Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- but in the good-intentioned, yet unsophisticated, hands of Howard Deutch, something substantial was lost. It doesn't help that these scripts were, at best, Hughes b-sides.
When John Hughes couldn't stop writing rich kids vs. poor kids scripts about love triangles, he gave up directing teen movies and started unloading these scripts on a music video director with no feature experience (Deutch). As a double bill, these two films make for a pretty equal match. Not only are they oddly similar in style, but Some Kind of Wonderful could reasonably be described as a gender-reversed remake of Pretty in Pink. In one scene -- a discussion of high school class dynamics -- Mary Stuart Masterson says "this is getting stale." I'm pretty sure she was talking about the Hughes/Deutch alliance.
Under the watchful eye of famed Jonathan Demme cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, Pretty in Pink has a slightly more refined visual style than Some Kind of Wonderful, but Wonderful has an infinitely more appealing cast. Pink's Molly Ringwald and James Spader effectively embody their mid-80s screen personae, but Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer are maddening from beginning to end. Left to choose between these two flakes, I'm surprised Ringwald didn't toss the script and embrace Spader's villainous, sleazeball charm. At least he had some charisma. Thankfully, the cast of Some Kind of Wonderful does quite a bit better, particularly the underrated Mary Stuart Masterson in one of her most appealing and multifaceted performances.
If you're already a fan of this Hughes/Deutch double whammy, these discs are cause for celebration, as both are overflowing with nostalgic, Hughes-loving extras. Both discs feature commentary by Deutch (he is joined by his wife, Lea Thompson, on Some Kind of Wonderful) and a pile of featurettes -- totaling over 90 minutes on Pink, but only about 35 minutes on Wonderful -- which include new interviews with all the major participants, except the reclusive Hughes. Instead, we have to settle for old Hughes clips, many of which are drawn from an interview he did with She's Having a Baby star, Kevin "hairstyle" Bacon (included, in its entirety, as a featurette on the Some Kind of Wonderful disc).
While most of these extras are quite good, the highlight comes in an unexpectedly touching anecdote by Maddie Corman, who plays Eric Stoltz's sister in Some Kind of Wonderful. A while after she auditioned for the film, Corman's parents went to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which was preceded by a teaser for Some Kind of Wonderful. Reminded of this project, Corman's mother assumed that her daughter didn't get the role. In the days after this, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, as she lay dying, Maddie was called back in for another audition (in spite of the teaser, the film hadn't started shooting yet). When her mother asked if she got the role, Maddie lied (she said "yes."). Days later, her mother died and, a few weeks after that, Maddie heard that she did, in fact, get the part, thereby making truth out of the (white) lie she told her dying mother.
Overall, these are extremely enjoyable discs celebrating a pair of mildly enjoyable -- but supremely disposable -- non-classics. Essentially, these are the films that John Hughes die-hards should turn to only once they've worn out their Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off DVDs. By that standard, they're acceptable, but be forewarned: this is bubblegum filmmaking and anyone over the age of eighteen should approach cautiously. -- Jonathan Doyle