It's generally accepted that the Brat Pack are icons of 80s pop culture, none more so than the princess that is Molly Ringwald. In 1984, 1985 and 1986, Molly played the female lead characters in three of the best-loved teen movies around: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink (all directed by the late John Hughes). I'm not old enough to remember the 80s, being more in touch with the Mean Girls generation, but this week I decided to watch all three movies. All of them have amazing soundtracks, 80s indie fashions and great performances, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest. But which one? Read on to find out...
All hail the teen movie queen!
In Sixteen Candles, Molly plays Sam Baker, and we join her on the morning of her sixteenth birthday, in a busy home occupied by not only Sam and her parents, but also a cute little sister, sassy little brother, and an older sister who is due to get married the following day. Amongst all the madness, the whole family forget about Sam's birthday - even both sets of Sam's grandparents who come to stay for the wedding. To add to this, Sam has to deal with her crush on super hot senior Jake Ryan, a weird Chinese exchange student brought over by her grandparents, and the advances of a nerdy boy on the school bus (played by fellow Brat Pack member Anthony Michael Hall) who just won't leave her alone. She goes to a school dance where she befriends the geek boy instead of dancing with her crush, and ends up missing a wild after party at Jake's house in favour of going home and sulking over him. In the end, she forgives her family, gets her sister through her wedding, and gets her sixteen candles from her dream man, because teen movies always end happily ever after. The movie isn't without its problems: the treatment of Chinese student Long Duck Dong falls on the wrong side of the racism line, and the geek boy's scenes with the drunk popular girl border on rape, but being that the movie is now 30 years old, I'd hope that those elements of teen movies are past us now. Also, for a film about a girl and her troubles, there's a lot going on that doesn't relate much to Sam, like the fact that there's a huge party that she's not even at! I mean, it's important because the geek is able to pass on to Jake that Sam has a crush on him, but then there's the whole part where the geek has to drive Jake's drunk girlfriend home (and he's also drunk, underage, and without a license) because Jake has decided to pursue Sam and apparently now cares nothing for his actual girlfriend...
Molly and John Hughes' next outing, The Breakfast Club, is much less problematic. It features five of the Brat Pack's biggest stars playing five teen stereotypes who turn out to be so much more. The group, Brian the brain (Anthony Michael Hall, playing the geek kid once again), Andy the athlete (Emilio Estevez), Allison the basketcase (Ally Sheedy), Claire the princess (Molly Ringwald) and John, or Bender, the criminal (Judd Nelson), are all spending their Saturday in detention, presided over by the prinicpal. They are asked to sit in silence and write an essay, but instead they begin to talk to one another, at first with hostility but then as the day goes on (and they consume some drugs) they become much more open with one another and realise that they have much more in common with each other than their initial judgements suggested. The Breakfast Club is viewed as a classic, not just in the teen movie genre but across the board. It is certainly the funniest, most moving, and best thought out of the three movies, and it has the best theme song in Simple Minds' 'Don't You (Forget About Me)'. If you only watch one of the three movies, make it this one. It's not the most Molly-centric of the trilogy but it's the movie that the Brat Pack are best remembered for, and as my flatmate and movie-watching partner said, the image of John Bender with his fist in the air at the end is enough to give you chills every time.
The third of the Ringwald/Hughes trilogy is Pretty In Pink, which is more of a return to Sixteen Candles territory. Molly's character Andie is from a poor family and at a school with an obvious rich/poor student divide. The rich kids generally seem to come to school in white suits as if they've just stepped off their boats, and the poor kids generally look awesome, including Andie who dresses in thrift store/homemade clothing that would be at home in a grandma's closet. Anyway, Andie has a crush on a rich kid called Blane who has a crush on her back even though he shouldn't know she exists, and you should see this movie even if only for the 80s IMing scene that I don't think is accurate at all. Andie's best friend in this movie is Duckie, a fun fashionable guy who is completely in love with her but has to deal with the fact that they'll only ever be friends. There's also a cool older friend in Iona, who owns the record store Andie works in and rejects the mainstream and is basically the coolest fairy godmother ever until she sells out (John Hughes' cool alternative girls always get 'cured' and that's a major issue for me). So Andie has to deal with dating a rich kid and being ashamed of her poor background and Blane has to deal with his rich friends putting him down for dating a poor kid and Duckie has to deal with the fallout while also dealing with his feelings towards his best friend. Pretty In Pink is kind of on par with Sixteen Candles, in that it's a good teen movie but there are bits that don't make sense and elements that don't sit too comfortably, which is a shame after the perfection of The Breakfast Club before it. Oh, and Andie wears the ugliest homemade prom dress ever seen.
As well as these three, I also watched Molly's 1988 movie, For Keeps?, which was not directed by Hughes and was much less successful. In this film, Molly plays Darcy, a smart school girl who gets pregnant by her boyfriend Stan. After being unable to go through with an abortion, the pair decide to get married, rent an apartment, and drop out of school to raise their baby. Then Darcy gets depressed, and Stan gets angry, and they realise that having a baby and a home doesn't make them responsible adults. I didn't go into this movie expecting it to be good, but I was actually surprised by the first part. Darcy and Stan could have been a great teen movie couple, and their parents were hilarious, but as the film went on I found myself watching the clock more and more wondering when it was going to end. It lacked the visuals and the soundtrack of the Hughes movies, and Molly didn't seem her usual self, which let the movie down. Molly has been in a number of other movies since, none of which have been particularly successful, and I'd hate to think that For Keeps? is the best that came of her post-Hughes career, but I just can't bring myself to watch any more of her movies.
So: I would completely recommend The Breakfast Club and give it 10/10, I've watched it a good few times and never tire of it. I'd also suggest Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink as follow-up movies for anyone who fell in love with Molly Ringwald and loves 80s culture and teen love triangles, but I can only give them 7/10 ratings since they're so clumsy and flawed.
In case you were wondering, Molly Ringwald still acts, and has most recently been seen in TV show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. She's also performed on Broadway, released a jazz album, and written two books. And she's still totally awesome.
I want to blog more about great movie and TV moments, and I'm totally open to any suggestions! So let me know what you think of these teen classics, and tell me what your favourite movies and TV shows are so I can check them out for future posts!