Pink Nights

Director: Phillip Koch            
Kevin Anderson, Shaun Allen, Peri Kaczmarek

Though movies aimed directly at the teenage market have been made since the 1950s, it was actually the early 1980s when the "teenage movie" evolved to more or less how it is today. While the "teenage movie" genre has never received that much acclaim from critics, many of the older movies of this genre can be appreciated by today's audiences on levels other than genuine merit - such as peeks at the social attitudes of the time, or for their kitsch value. But even when you consider that a lot of movies need to age like a wine, I still greatly doubt the vast majority of the teenage movies made today will merit anything more than their titles getting a quick mention in some future piece of writing. The reasons why are too numerous to completely mention in this review, though one of the major reasons is that unlike in the past, many of the teenage movies today are comedies. Not only is comedy is hard to do, most filmmakers will admit that it's easier to titillate an audience by blowing something up or chopping a head off than it is by making them laugh.

On the other hand, all those rich pretty-boy dramas with Freddie Prinze Jr as well as most of those teen slashers are unbearable crap as well. Maybe filmmakers of late have just lost the few shreds of imagination Pity the teen who looks in the world through rose-colored glassesthey once had, as well as their sense of fun. Still, it must be pointed out that over the past two decades or so there have been some successful teenage movies - Say Anything, WarGames, The Boys Next Door, and many of John Hughes' movies, just to name a few. Looking at these and other successful teenage movie, you soon start to see a pattern; just about all of these successful teenage movies - even the comedies - have at least one foot firmly planted in reality. Ferris Bueller's Day Off may have been a wild movie, but it had some characters that you could really identify with, as well as with some of the problems they found themselves in. The movie was not afraid to be serious at times, something I appreciated because it gave the story a sensitivity that made it more endearing. It made you almost able to swallow all the events that happened in the course of the movie. This foot-in-reality attitude is also found in Pink Nights, and why I enjoyed it. Yes, the movie has many of the problems found in other teenage movies of the early 1980s - it's cheap-looking, amateurishly put together, and the attempts at comedy completely fall flat. But I was able to accept it warts and all, and not just because it strived to be a more realistic look at teenage life. Like almost all of the other successful teenage movies of the past two decades, Pink Nights is also blessed by having taste, intelligence, and heart.

Unlike many teenage movies, this particular story is a simple one, small and unpretentious - its seeming determination to be low key is almost charming. Set in Chicago, the movie is centered around high school student Danny (Anderson, who has recently received acclaim on Broadway), a likable guy but one with a non-existent dating life because of his shyness. Upon seeing his friend Jeff (played by Larry King - please, no jokes) effortlessly making advances to girls in the hallway we hear Danny telling us, "He can walk up to a total stranger and say 'Hi' - I can't! To me it just has to happen..." The one time Danny does manage to say "Hi", trying to get the attention of Esme (Kaczmarek), the new girl in school, she doesn't respond. Danny's luck isn't any better when it's the women doing the approaching. When Terry (Allen) approaches him in a record store and asks him out, he soon finds out he was asked out because of a bet, with the stakes being a t-shirt. Later, when Marcy (Jessica Vitkus) invites him over and turns out to have friendlier intentions, things quickly grind to a halt when she confesses she'll be going to boarding school in Switzerland in a few days. Though naturally feeling hurt and despondent about his bad luck, Danny does his best to dismiss and forget about these women and his loneliness... so obviously he is fully unprepared several days later when these three women seek refuge with him for various reasons, and end up being his roommates in his own home!

It can't be denied that there are many things in Pink Nights that simply don't work. To begin with, the story; though the description of the movie stated in the previous The girls were not amused when Danny told them one guy + two women is a good "some"paragraph sounds pretty straightforward, the actual execution of the movie does not come across that way. It actually takes quite a while for the movie to reach the point where Danny finds himself living with those three girls. And before that point is reached, there is not only no real sign that the movie is making its way to that point, there is no real sign that the movie is making its way to any kind of point. "Aimless" is kind of an understating way to describe the attitude of Pink Nights. Not just in how it slowly ambles into that situation, but how it decides to play out the situation once it gets to it. Though Danny finds himself living with three girls, there is surprisingly no real conflict, no problems arising from the situation. Even when Danny's mother (who had been away on vacation when the girls moved in) comes home and sees what happened since she left, it doesn't seem to make any difference. She does get upset and shouts a little, but that's all that she does at the time. In fact, a couple of scenes later (before disappearing for good) she seems remarkably overall adjusted to the situation. The lack of conflict and tension isn't also helped by the fact that not long after Danny finds himself with the three girls, it's pretty blatantly telegraphed just how this unusual situation will get resolved, and that nobody will end up unhappy.

The movie seems too reluctant to deal seriously with anything that might be a real problem for the characters. If a young couple have a disagreement and one of them storms off, two scenes later they will all of a sudden be together again as if the argument never happened. With key moments seeming unfilmed or cut out, there is often a ragged and unfinished feeling to Pink Nights. There recently was a director's cut made available, and it's possible that crucial linking footage is restored. At the same time, I have to wonder if this director's cut also removes a lot of that footage I previously mentioned (such as a long sequence where Danny and the girls go to see the band Bohemia) that does not advance the story in the least. Not only that, but I hope the director's cut managed to get a better source for the video transfer, because it almost looks like they used an old TV print for the original video release. On the other hand, the look of the movie also has those aspects commonly found with independent 16 mm productions, so maybe there is a limit to how good the movie could ever look. Even if it was shot in 35 mm and a digitally remastered print was struck, the low budget origin of the movie would still be evident. Night sequences and indoor sequences shot in dark rooms are poorly lit, making it hard at times to clearly see what's going on. A nightclub looks suspiciously like an abandoned and gutted office interior, the camera usually isn't far from the actors in a seeming attempt to hide the fact the supposedly locations aren't really where the characters are, and some sets constructed for the movie are obviously, well, sets.

There's a lot more wrong to be found in Pink Nights. The attempts at comedy are so lamely performed as well as being utterly unfunny in themselves that it's a blessing that most of the movie is played on a serious note. As for the general level of acting, while no one out and out stinks, it's pretty easy to You can tell this is a sensitive moment, because Danny is wearing a sweaterunderstand why a great number of the cast members never starred in another movie. I could go on for some time about the many other faults to be found in the movie. Yet while I acknowledge all the bad things to be found, so help me, I cannot help but admit that I was charmed by Pink Nights all the same. Though obviously not always done well, it was pleasing to see a teenage movie that treated adolescent life with realism and respect. Much of this success come from leading actor Anderson. He is today reportedly embarrassed by this first leading role of his, but he has no reason to be ashamed. Yes, he is a little stiff and bewildered, but adolescence is a time where it's common for people to feel awkward. And though he was 25 at the time, his looks and mannerisms are convincing as those coming from typical teenagers. He has a natural unpolished vibe to him that suggests his character still is sorting out everything he has been experiencing so far in this part of his life - very much unlike other adult actors who try to play teenagers, even those under 25. His performance is also a bit more muted than usual, and it's nice to see a teenage character winning us over with his amiable temperament instead of practically begging for our attention and sympathy.

Danny is a likable guy, though he isn't exactly your stereotypical "nice guy" - his personality more more like that of an ordinary guy. He has the same kind of desires as almost any guy his age; though looking for true love, he does seize the opportunity given to him by Marcy to kiss her the first time they go out (and they had just met for the first time earlier that evening.) Yet at the same time, he has already built a good amount of maturity within himself. "I was just lucky" he humbly states about his envious situation, and when Jeff can't believe Danny is so blasť about living with three girls, Danny responds, "We are adults." Though he is fond of and attracted to the three girls, he remains respectful, and won't sleep with them even if one of them seems to be trying to lead him that way. Even when Danny has a heart-to-heart talk with his boss about his situation and is told that "a man should have many girlfriends", all he ends up doing is wearing sunglasses and giving the girls some friendly hugs. Though Danny is searching for love, the theme of the movie is actually more focused on friendship - how everybody is seeking a soul mate (much different than simply a mate), how friendship is more valuable than physical relationships, and that the ideal friendships have respect as well as compatible spirits.

These are things that I think just about everyone deep down is looking for, so seeing characters onscreen who discover and appreciate just how joyful friendship can be is a pleasure to watch. Even though these same characters do not have A special shot for all you Bohemia fans!... You know, Bohemia!... Come on, you remember them!...grand schemes and seem to do little of real consequence, they are a likeable bunch, and it's nice to hang around with them. There's nothing that they do that makes us seriously change their mind about them. In fact, it's quite amazing how free of offensive material Pink Nights is. There's no nudity, no sex, and I can't even recall any instance of foul language, making me wonder why the movie even got a PG rating. Though his screenplay might be essentially plotless, Writer/director Koch at the very least deserves praise for not trying to entertain the audience by going the easy way out. And while the low budget he was stuck with did result in some previously mentioned problems, he compensates for it by adding an accessible touch you don't usually see in teenage movies. More than 15 years after it was made, there is little that feels dated; characters generally wear styles of clothing you still see people wearing today, and there's little seen of '80s fads like breakdancing. There is a New Wave soundtrack compiled from the works of obscure bands of the time (the only one that people may know being Front 242), but the music in this movie is more in the background instead of being front and center. Even if you focus on the music, it turns out to be surprisingly pleasant to listen to even in this new era. It's just one of the ways Pink Nights is a breath of fresh air in the teenage genre.

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Check for availability of Front 242 music (CD)

See also: Hollywood High, Hot Chili, Rivals