Released: January 15, 1988
Directed by: John G.Avildsen
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Randall Batinkoff
Availability: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes
Molly Ringwald attempts to shed her image in a movie about what happens in the 20 minutes after her previous movies like Pretty in Pink end, and the ensuing aftermath of those actions. Yep, we’re talking about pregnancy and, even though the official title of the movie has a question mark (For Keeps?), the fact that Ringwald is holding a baby on the cover of the DVD kind of spoils the fact that yes, keeps it.
What’s it About?
Molly Ringwald and Randall Batinkoff play high school sweethearts Darcy and Stan, convinced their love for each other will never die, and four years away from each other at colleges in different states—Darcy studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin and Stan pursuing a very demanding architecture degree at Cal Tech–will only make their love grow stronger.
On a trip to visit her future school, Darcy and Stan stop to do it. A bunch of times, as is revealed later, but the fateful time occurring in the woods in a rainstorm. She is pretty much immediately aware of her status as a pregnant lady, acquiring an aversion to alcohol after only a day or two.
Somehow, the couples’ entire school finds out pretty much immediately, and the families are informed during a terse Thanksgiving dinner. An argument breaks out amongst the parents about abortion versus adoption, with Darcy and Stan looking on. It’s decided for Darcy that she’s going to have an abortion, but she decides for herself that she wants to keep it. Stan, for his part, is overjoyed.
When the families find out that the teenagers are keeping the baby, more arguments break out and the high school students find themselves in a dumpy apartment above a laundromat married by a Chinese minister in a shotgun wedding. She has to go to night school, he has to take one part time job and eventually a second but they make it work for the most part.
After Darcy has the baby, she suffers from postpartum depression. Darcy and her father in law bond with the baby after she catches him on her balcony. The couple are forced to move in with Darcy’s mother, driving Stan to start drinking and antagonizing both his wife and mother in law. Darcy concocts a plan to get Stan to accept his scholarship to Cal Tech by kicking him to the curb. After pursuing her for the rest of the third act, Darcy finally accepts Stan’s apology and they presumably attend the University of Wisconsin together.
Unplanned pregnancy is a topic that has been mined numerous times throughout the decades, though for the last 30 years they have been particularly prolific. This is the first movie I can remember where teen pregnancy is the focal point of the movie, though Dirty Dancing from the previous year had a significant abortion subplot.
What struck me about this movie was the frankness of the adoption/abortion debate. 15 years after the landmark Roe v Wade decision, the word abortion is bandied about cavalierly. In contrast, Dirty Dancing from the year before spoke about the act euphemistically and in hushed tones (though to be fair, it was set in the 1960s). There seems to be no real rule here—Look Who’s Talking, which would come out one year after For Keeps and featuring an older protagonist in Kirstie Alley, makes no mention of abortion. Similarly, Knocked Up from 2007 has a group of men speak about abortion euphemistically, though Katherine Heigl’s character seemed to not even consider the possibility. Juno finds the protagonist asking to “procure a hasty abortion” though, again, she reconsiders.
Much has been made about all of these seemingly pro-choice women making the choice in these movies to keep their babies instead of having an abortion. I suspect this is simply a plot device—it’s difficult to imagine a movie called Knocked Up and have a non-knocked up woman, nor would it be ideal for the protagonist in For Keeps not keep her child. A woman having an abortion and the aftermath thereof is an entirely different kind of movie.
For Keeps was released on January 15th of 1988, the third Friday of the year, alongside The Couch Trip and Return of the Living Dead. For Keeps was the most successful of the three, opening in 4th place at $6,000,000, though it couldn’t overtake returning films Good Morning Vietnam, Three Men and a Baby, or Moonstruck. It ended up being a moderate hit, reaching $17,000,000 by the end of its run on a budget of $1,000,000.
This was clearly Molly Ringwald’s attempt at growing her image up, straddling the line between her past Brat Pack roles and the serious dramatic roles she coveted in the future. Her performance was praised by critics at the time, with Janet Maslin of The New York Times noting that Ringwald “proves herself to be an even more versatile and captivating talent than she has before.”
Teen pregnancy has been a hot button issue for many years now, and I don’t see it slipping away from the cultural consciousness any time soon. This is a movie that could have easily been made any time in the past 30 years, with only slight modifications to the technology presented (Ringwald struggles to write an article on a typewriter at the dining room table, Batinkoff’s father marvels that every student at Cal Tech has his own computer). The struggles for undereducated young people saddled with the responsibility of raising children have only become more pronounced in the years following this film.
Is It Any Good?
For Keeps does good work of bridging Molly Ringwald’s career into adulthood. Her character’s transformation from confident high school senior to insecure pregnant teen to depressed young mother is an impressive bit of acting. The teenagers’ love story is presented very realistically, insomuch as the characters are completely unrealistic about their future plans. The struggle of the characters to survive in the modern world with a child under their care is compelling to watch. The rest of the movie leaves something to be desired—the dynamic between the teenagers and their parents is a little silly and their refusal to ask for help from their completely and totally willing elders is infuriating. It’s worth watching, though, if only for Ringwald’s performance.