Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Our Platonic Friendship

Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful are basically the same movie. Both feature a heterogeneous platonic friendship between two working-class angsty teens, where one harbors a secret but excruciatingly obvious infatuation for the other, while that other oblivious angsty teen is pining for some angsty teen who is out of his/her socioeconomic league. 

The similarity has to do with a rewrite that John Hughes was persuaded to make on Pretty in Pink. As I understand it, Andie, the Molly Ringwald character, was supposed to be smooching the Duck man as OMD’s "If You Leave" crescendoed in the background and not preppy Blane. Test audiences were opposed to this ending, though, so Hughes changed it to the BMW ad that it is today. Some Kind of Wonderful, released the following year, was Hughes’ attempt to make amends with himself, I suppose, and tell that Pretty in Pink story the way he’d originally intended--the besties end up together while the "richies" are left to sort out all their rich kid crap. I’m sure that Some Kind of Wonderful has a decent following, I’m definitely a fan, but Pretty in Pink is iconic.

How do we account for this disparity when they are fundamentally identical?

Well, I tend to believe that it has to do with the way the movies ended, since that’s really the only way that they’re different. In Some Kind of Wonderful, Keith (Eric Stoltz) chases down sobbing, tomboy BFF Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), swoops her up in his arms, and kisses her, finally realizing that she’s been aching for his pale, freckled bod for years. 

In Pretty in Pink, Duckie follows Sting’s nonsensical advice (If you love somebody, set them free) and orders the pale, freckled object of his affection to go off with her dreamboat--Andie and Blane then bravely tongue each other in a parking lot. Both are mega-happy fantasies but there’s a subtle note of realism in the way that Pretty in Pink ends. I mean, how depressing is it that Duckie (who at one point says to Andie, "I live to like you") doesn’t get the girl? But I think it’s depressing in a completely authentic and relatable way. Some Kind of Wonderful, on the other hand, is a total Hughesian delusion. Like I said, I’m a fan of Some Kind of Wonderful, but there’s just something very beautiful and, ironically, satisfying about unrequited love. As much as we all crave mega-happy endings in our own lives, they can be off-putting in movies. That isn’t to say that we don’t want things to end well, but it’s just hard to swallow resolution entirely devoid of discord.

The platonic-friend-wanting-to-take-the-relationship-to-the-next-level is a well-worn movie trope. In some cases, the friends end up together, in others they don’t. Valentine’s Day and memories of all the valentineless February 14ths I’ve had in the past, got me thinking about some of the movies that explore this issue and wondering if those that seem to celebrate the unrequited love of the platonic friend, like Pretty in Pink, are always more satisfying. 

My Best Friend’s Wedding

The Platonic Friends: Julianne (Julia Roberts) and Michael (Dermot Mulroney); Julianne and George (Rupert Everett)

The Oblivious One(s): Michael; Julianne and George

The Wrench in the System: Kimberly (Cameron Diaz); George’s homosexuality.

Synopsis: Julianne waits until the eve of Michael’s wedding to reveal her feelings for him. In the end he picks thinner, younger, blonder, richer, ditzier Kimberly (even though Julianne has moves he’s never seen before). Julianne ends up dancing with her gay friend George at the reception, which, for some reason, I’ve always interpreted as a sign that they were going to start something up--as if Julianne’s desperation had somehow "cured" George of his homosexuality.

Satisfying? Yes, but not merely because the relationship remains platonic. I don’t think that Julianne deserved Michael. Before she asks him to marry her instead of Kimberly, Julianne tries to sabotage the wedding. So I’m glad that all of her self-serving scheming didn’t pay off. (If you look back at Julia Roberts’ career, you’ll see that most of the characters that she’s played have been similarly unlikable). As far as Julianne’s relationship with George, well, I don’t even understand what the hell’s going on there. I’m an open-minded person and do think that sexuality can be more fluid than most people believe it to be, but I don’t really understand what I’m supposed to take from this ending. If it simply means that George is the kind of true blue friend who’ll be there for you when your attempts to spoil the happiness of another friend fail, then I guess I’m okay with that. I guess that’s kind of sweet.

Empire Records

The Platonic Friends: Cory (Liv Tyler) and A.J. (Johhny Whitworth)

The Oblivious One(s): Cory

The Wrench in the System: Cory’s obsession with washed-up pop star Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), and Cory is going to Harvard in the fall.

Synopsis: After throwing herself at Rex Manning, who doesn’t live up to her romantic expectations, Cory runs up to the roof of the record store where A.J. tells her that he loves her. She initially rebuffs him but they end up together after Cory has had time to recover from the Rex Manning debacle.

Satisfying? Yeah, I was into it. But that might be because Empire Records doesn’t revolve around Cory and A.J.--their drama is just one thread in a movie with about three or four subplots--so I wasn’t incredibly invested in the relationship. And besides, if they didn’t get together the greatest rooftop dénouement in teen movie history might not have been possible.


The Platonic Friends: Lucas (Corey Haim) and Maggie (Kerri Green); Lucas and Rina (Winona Ryder)

The Oblivious One(s): Maggie; Lucas

The Wrench in the System: Maggie’s white cotton panties, age, and attraction to Cappie (Charlie Sheen), a football player; Lucas’ infatuation with Maggie.

Synopsis: After telling Maggie that he likes her and being rejected, Lucas attempts to impress her by joining the football team and is seriously injured during a game. Maggie visits him in the hospital, talks to him about locusts and friendship--basically reinforcing the rejection as she and Cappie are now an item. Rina never tells Lucas how she feels about him.

Satisfying? Yes. Even with all the clichéd high school caste system stuff, the relationships in this movie feel authentic. Plus, Maggie’s reasons for rejecting Lucas are valid—he’s too young for her. A year or two doesn’t make much difference after you’ve graduated but when you’re still in high school dating an underclassman can seem like straight-up pedophilia. I do feel for Rina, though, mainly because she kind of reminds me of myself at 14. I mean, Lucas may not get the girl in the end but he does get a slow-clap. Meanwhile Rina’s still hopelessly devoted to him. But that’s high school, so I can accept it.

Can't Hardly Wait

The Platonic Friends: Preston (Ethan Embry) and Denise (Lauren Ambrose)
The Oblivious One(s): Preston and Denise

The Wrench in the System: Preston’s infatuation with Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Denise’s unfortunate haircut and fashion sense, and the fact that neither of them understands how perfect they are for each other.
Synopsis: The love letter that Preston wrote for Amanda finds its way into her hands, she confronts him at a train station and tells him that she might be interested in a relationship. They end up together while Denise starts dating diminutive Kenny Fisher (Seth Green).

Satisfying? No, not at all. I hate that Preston winds up with Amanda, partially because her hair is really weird but also because he and Denise are perfectly matched (Both Andie and Maggie are more mature than Duckie or Lucas, so the relationships probably wouldn’t have worked anyway). Even though I have a few good-looking male friends and acquaintances that I’m not attracted to, I just can’t wrap my head around a completely platonic relationship between two single people in a movie.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The Platonic Friends: Luke Sywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher)

The Oblivious One(s): Leia

The Wrench in the System: Han Solo (Harrison Ford), whose "Millennium Falcon" can do the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, and, uh, Luke and Leia are siblings.

Synopsis: Luke isn’t overly enamored with Leia but it’s clear that he’s kind of crushing on her. In Return of the Jedi, Luke learns that Leia is his twin sister but even if she weren’t related to him, a romantic relationship wouldn’t have been possible because Leia digs Han and his huge "ship."

Satisfying? Yes. I’m one of those anti-incest people.

All right, so has this proven anything? I don’t know, probably not. But I do know that the ending of When Harry Met Sally, where the best friends get together, is just as enjoyable as Pretty in Pink’s, where they don’t and both movies are classics. Maybe I look at Pretty in Pink and think that somewhere down the road, after Blane has inevitably dumped Andie, she’ll finally fall for Duckie.

If you can’t, at the very least, go out on a date with someone who does this:

You probably don’t deserve love. 


Sadako said...

Actually I always thought Luke/Mark Hamill was way hotter than Han/Harrison Ford. Am I delusional? I love a good voice actor. And he's SO cute in that pic!

Amber said...

Sadako: When I was a kid I was way into Luke. I wanted to marry that guy, for real. But as I've gotten older my attraction to Han has grown and grown...

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

You should totally write a song called "Bizarre Love Pentagon".

It'll be like one-upping New Order.

Or two-upping them, I suppose.

Amiee said...

How different does Lauren Ambrose look in Can't Hardly Wait, compared to in Six Feet Under - where she is also meant to be playing a teenager? That's the late 90s I guess!
You do gotta feel for Duckie, I always loved his serenade to Andie. Great post.

Sadako said...

Glad I'm not alone. :D

Hey, have you seen Trojan War? it's TERRIBLE, but it's another 90s platonic friendship becomes a relationship. The guy is Will Friedle and the best friend in love with him is...Jennifer Love Hewitt! Oh, the nostalgia.

Amber said...

Richard: Oh jeez, I love "Bizarre Love Triangle"! "Bizarre Love Pentagon" sounds like a hit to me. I'm mentally writing the song as I type this right now.

Amiee: I really didn't get Lauren Ambrose's ensemble in "Can't Hardly Wait." She's totally gorgeous now (and on "Six Feet Under"), way better looking than Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Sadako: I haven't see "Trojan War" but I vaguely remember it. Looks like someone put the entire movie on youtube so I'll be checking it out soon.

RAY J said...

My husband and I had that platonic friendship for roughly 9 years.

I was sitting at a relative's wedding and something someone said triggered something in my head that made me realize he was my Duckie. It took 9 years for me to give him a chance, but once we were together we knew it was meant to be and got married less than 2 years later.

Personally, I ALWAYS hated the ending to Pretty in Pink - just made me mad that Duckie takes to her the prom, and then she leaves him to get back together with the preppy rich kid. She doesn't deserve a friend like Duckie.

vint4ge said...

Hey funny/clever girl ! I saw this and made me think of you and all your statistics :)


Amber said...

Ray J: If you can make it happen with your buddy, I think that's always the ideal. It's awesome that you two got together.

vint4ge: I love that kind of stuff (obviously)! Thanks for sharing the link.

Vintage Christine said...

"Sixteen Candles". The greatest John Hughes movie ever. Everyone winds up with the person they wanted. Yay!

AVY said...

Love the hamburger.

Angie said...

All amazing examples. I think next you should do examples of love stories where they're not platonic friends, but total enemies/hate each other... then fall in love. Awww... how sweet. That's a common thread in love stories. "I hate you.... no wait.. I love you!"

Ally said...

Oh my how I loved so many of these movies. Lucas - love the pentagon by the way! Can't Hardly Wait - I had such a crush on Ethan Embry/Randall like from the time he was in Dutch - and All I Want For Xmas!

I adore this post!

Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing

arnor said...

Excellent topic

Some of my friend on www.RentAFriend.com
told me about this.

I think this is best!