Since enjoying 16 Candles, a very funny mid-80s teen romantic comedy written and directed by John Hughes and starring Molly Ringwald, I’d been meaning to watch this film, also written by Hughes and starring Ringwald, though directed by Howard Deutch since Hughes was tied up in other projects.
What I found most interesting about it was the ending, or more precisely how it came to be as a result of test screenings. More on that in a minute (and don’t worry, I will warn you before I give any surprises away). Incidentally, Ringwald was only 17 at the time the film was made, but Hughes respected her so much that he involved her in some of the casting decisions. It was her input that made him choose McCarthy over the sort of muscular jock he had assumed high school girls go for.
Ringwald plays a quiet and intelligent high school student whose father (Harry Dean Stanton) has been depressed since his wife abruptly deserted them a few years back. Ringwald has pretty much become the adult in the relationship, waking Stanton up in the morning and affectionately nagging him to get motivated and apply for full-time work. She has an after-school job at a record store owned by an eccentric and very appealing free spirit played by Annie Potts, only about 10 or 15 years out of high school herself. Potts has become one of Ringwald’s two best friends, the other being her childhood pal Duckie (Jon Cryer), who’s even weirder than Potts.
Most of Cryer’s and Ringwald’s high school classmates are richer than they are and look down on them not so much because of their lack of money as because they don’t dress in the accepted styles. Cryer is the bigger outcast, being even poorer and more ostentatiously eccentric.
Ringwald won’t date a rich classmate who clearly just wants to bed her, but when another, nicer rich guy (Andrew McCarthy) asks her out, she discovers she rather likes him. Cryer, on the other hand, is devastated. He’s long been in love with Ringwald and afraid to tell her. The ending isn't a shock but isn't what Hughes originally had in mind. More on that below, but first here's a trailer:
Presumably in part to make up for his dissatisfaction with Pretty in Pink Hughes wrote another film (also directed by Deutch) on a similar theme (though it was by no means a remake), the following year's Some Kind of Wonderful (reviewed here).
Spoiler alert, as they say: If you haven't seen the film you may want to skip what follows since it discloses the ending, but I wanted to explain why I didn't like it and suggest what could have been done to fix its problems while still making audiences happy (or happier, I suspect).
If you’re still with me, it’s pretty obvious early on that the film is going to come down to which guy Ringwald ends up with, which is not to say that a surprise ending was impossible. She could have hooked up with Annie Potts, say, or entered into a three-way relationship, or become a nun. But probably not in a 1980s John Hughes film. So the only major surprise about the ending is that there were two of them.
Test audiences hated the original ending so much they actually booed. The studio was of the opinion that the love that mattered most was their love for box office receipts, so they pressured Hughes to change it, though he and a lot of other people who worked on the film hated the idea except, interestingly enough, Ringwald.
What happens in both versions is that peer pressure, especially from his obnoxious best friend, gets to McCarthy, and he abruptly breaks off contact with Ringwald without telling her why. When she finally corners him in a school hallway and demands to know if he’s still going to take her to the prom, he invents the transparent lie that he can’t because he'd already asked someone else first and forgot.
So she goes to prom by herself, runs into the likewise-solo Duckie in his predictably eccentric version of a tux, and in the original ending they end up dancing in the moonlight. There was some ambiguity whether this meant they were now a couple or simply that he was supporting her as her best friend.
Either way, test audiences absolutely hated it. They wanted Ringwald to get the rich, good-looking, non-nerdy guy, no matter what an ass he’d been and despite Jon Cryer’s character’s complete devotion to her.
Ringwald, though, didn’t think it was credible that her character would end up with Cryer because she thought him too goofy to be boyfriend material. It might have worked, she said in a later interview, had the role of Duckie gone to Robert Downey Jr (who had in fact auditioned) since he struck her as a lot more attractive than Cryer.
Hughes reluctantly rewrote the ending and brought back Ringwald, Cryer, McCarthy, and some other principal actors to reshoot the prom scene. (McCarthy had in the meantime shaved his head for a play, so they had to put a wig on him.)
In the revised ending McCarthy is at the prom by himself, and when he sees Ringwald and Cryer come in together, he goes over to them and delivers a short speech to her, the gist of which is that he’ll love her forever and had never stopped believing in her, but she stopped believing in him, whatever that means, and then he leaves. Cryer sees how she’s looking at McCarthy and rather than saying “Seriously, after he tried to lay all the blame on you, you still want this lying clown?” he nobly urges her to go after him, which of course she does, not caring that she’s rather publicly humiliating her best friend.
As she recedes into the distance Duckie looks away and suddenly realizes he’s being eyed by a hitherto unseen hot young woman. He doubtfully points at himself for confirmation and she nods, managing to put a lot of sexual suggestion into it. Duckie and the audience look at each other.
You might recognize Duckie’s new admirer as Kristy Swanson, who later played the title character in the original movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The end credits giver her character’s name as, and I’m not making this up, “Duckette,” so one can infer that Cryer will enjoy his consolation prize ex machina, as long as he doesn’t give her reason to think he’s a vampire.
This ending was a bigger hit with audiences, but I found it dumb. It’s not so much that Duckie doesn’t get the girl but that McCarthy is such a jerk and Ringwald goes after him anyway. Life has taught me that this is entirely believable, but it still sucks. Hughes could have at least given her a reason to forgive him, not to mention giving a hint why Kristy Swanson finds Duckie appealing.
For example, suppose McCarthy comes up to Ringwald and Cryer and says he’s sorry for being an idiot and treating her so badly and that he’ll regret it for the rest of his life. He’s glad she now had someone who really loves her and and will never hurt her. He tells Duckie he’s a good man and leaves.
As he walks away Ringwald looks at McCarthy with an expression Cryer has no trouble interpreting, so he pulls her around to face him and says,“OK, you know what? Everything he just said is true. I do love you, and more than anything in the world I want you to be happy. So go. Go after him. Right now. He’s got a really good car and you’ll never catch him in that pile of crap you drive if you don’t get to him before he leaves the parking lot, so hurry.” She gives Cryer a look of affection, gratitude, admiration, maybe even awe, and whatever else comes to mind (which is a stage direction that might lead even Ringwald to mayhem), kisses him quickly but emphatically, and scurries off. Duckie watches her leave the same way she watched McCarthy and keeps looking until she’s out of sight.
Then he turns and yells “Augh!” because Kristy Swanson is standing not yards away as in the current ending but right in front of him. She says, “That was the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen. Ever. Are you sad? Do you want to go somewhere and talk? Or whatever?” Then we’re back to the revised ending as shot.
If only Hughes had thought to ask me.