What do you know about Molly Ringwald? That she is the redhead who (broke the unwritten rule about ginger hair and) dared to be Pretty in Pink, starred in the three greatest teen movies of the 1980s and has a striking party trick involving cleavage and a lipstick. Anything more?
Did you know, for example, that Ms Ringwald lived through a devastating Super Flu (which wiped out most of the US population) and fought an epic battle between good and evil for the very souls of mankind? Or that she was once hurled down a staircase by a psychotic ghost of Christmas past? Possibly not…
With this in mind, I present you a list of my favourite Molly roles. As is right and proper her partnership with the late John Hughes features prominently but, hopefully, there are one or two surprises from the versatile Queen of Teen. Though I was still juggling the order until moments ago, here is my temporarily definitive Molly Ringwald Top Five:
5. The Stand: Book to screen transitions are notoriously tricky and few authors have been as open to this process as Stephen King. He is famously generous to filmmakers - granting them rights to his huge body of work for peppercorn payment. This has been a wonderful thing for fledgling directors but not so much for King fans. However, this mini-series adaptation of his heftiest tome does a reasonable job of conveying at least the human aspects of the epic tale. The Stand is the story of a man-made killer bug, Captain Trips, accidentally released on small town America and its devastating consequences. In the aftermath the survivors have a second fight as they begin to write the rules for a new society – there are larger forces at play and not everyone wants to follow the rules.
The drama is made remarkable by a handful of strong performances – by Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe and Laura San Giacomo in particular - and punctuated by a stirring soundtrack. King himself makes his regular Hitchcockian appearance beside the fine supporting cast and there is an episode one cameo by Sam Raimi to spot! Jamey Sheridan (Syriana, The Ice Storm) offers a seething, almost pantomime, Randall Flagg leading the conflicted to the dark side, but Molly Ringwald is the humanity at the heart of the melodrama. Frannie Goldsmith begins the story as a girl-next-door with a secret and becomes one of its heroines. Frannie, even in the novel, is hard to engage with - her will to survive necessitating a certain hardness. Ringwald deftly handles Frannie’s harder edges and, to me, the impact of the Super Flu hits hardest when seen through her eyes.
4. The Breakfast Club: To know The Breakfast Club is to love it, but what’s to love about Claire? Rich, entitled, pretty and preppie – she doesn’t exactly leap off the page as likeable. And she might have remained trapped in her stereotype were it not for John Hughe’s alchemistic power to render the ordinary…unique.
Pampered princess Claire doesn’t belong in Saturday morning detention with a group of randoms, yet this one static Saturday away from the mall dares her to break the Daddy’s girl mold. The, now cult, trio of Hughes/Ringwald films perhaps peaked with The Breakfast Club. Claire is arguably the best realised of the three characters Ringwald portrayed. From the simple sketch of a diamond-sporting Prom Queen, the pair created a memorable and nuanced individual. An individual quite equal to the task of stealing Bender’s heart!
3. Sixteen Candles: Samantha Baker is a perfectly observed teenaged girl. She could be (Are You There God it’s Me) Margaret a few birthdays hence. Sam wakes up on her birthday expecting breasts, boyfriends and marching bands to greet her. Instead her Sweet Sixteen is swept away in a tsunami of preparation for her sister’s wedding.
Sixteen Candles is a quintessential teen movie with all the food groups represented – inconsiderate/embarrassing family, the boy who doesn’t know you exist, the wrong boy who does and a good dose of body dysmorphia. This well-trod John Hughes territory is no less charming for its familiarity. It was the first of the three teen movies they shot together and Molly’s Sam is endearingly awkward. The true magic of the movie lies in the toe-curlingly recognisable moments; the first call to the object of your affection, the ‘how far would you go’ notes swapped in class and that longing. Of course naÃ¯ve Sam intrigues by contrast and turns the head of school heart throb Jake her way but her triumph still makes me want to cheer whenever I watch! Including an early role for personal favourite John Cusack, Sixteen Candles is a pure hit of nostalgic bliss.
2. Office Killer: Cindy Sherman’s pitch perfect, pitch black, comedy is an essential for anyone who has ever set foot upon the 9-5 treadmill. Efficient and pathologically mousy copy editor Dorine (Scrooged ‘fairy’ Carol Kane) lives for her job. It is her only respite from the drudgery of a spinster life spent caring for her invalid Mother. When the office introduces a ‘work from home’ initiative Dorine takes the news very badly.
Molly gives a fabulous turn as snide suspicious co-worker Kim Poole, the token office bitch and a woman begging to be killed horribly! As Dorine finds an innovative way to take her work home, Kim tries her best to derail her sending Dorine into a deadly spiral. The ensuing gore fest is a joy – perfectly subverting the thriller/killer tradition with most unsettling results.
1. Pretty in Pink: The most love/hate product of the Hughes/Ringwald relationship, I am firmly on the madly-in-love-with side of the fence. And there are a lot of us over here! Outside pressure dictated a less than ideal ending (which pains me to this day) but Pretty in Pink’s enduring charm allows fans to love it flaws and all.
Andie Walsh is an unusual character for a teen movie because she never assimilates. The rich/poor blonde/not-so-blonde divide has never been more evident in Hughes’ work than it is in this film, but Andie doesn’t cross the line – in fact they come to her. Her vintage clothes and record shop job are out of place and time in her preppie school with its BMW-heavy parking lot. Unlike Some Kind of Wonderful’s Amanda Jones, Andie does not seek to mask her background even when rich boy Steff throws her a bone - the offer of a date and a passport into his world - or bland Blaine comes calling. Behind closed doors though she bitterly resents it.
This is my favourite of Molly Ringwald’s roles because it is her rawest, in fact Pretty in Pink is altogether rather a dark film. When Andie props up her unemployed, heartbroken Father, or rejects the advances of James Spader’s Steff her vulnerability is all too apparent. It’s a brave movie and one which speaks to the imperfect school experiences of many. It dares to address the fallibility of adults without seeking to solve anything. With an evocative soundtrack providing subtle narration this heartfelt film is as stylish as it is sweet (hideous prom dress not withstanding!).