The Pick-Up Artist

The Title Says It All: A review of The Pick-Up Artist (1987)

Despite its terminally contrived plot and some remarkably mediocre performances (confidential to James Toback: just because Molly Ringwald is appealingly vulnerable doesn’t mean she can act her way out of a paper bag), The Pick-up Artist is quite useful as a learning tool, both in terms of showing what to, and what NOT to do when approaching strangers.

Jack Jericho has a lot of shortcomings as a PUA.  He is a cheese-ball try-hard who immediately telegraphs his interest and intent to any attractive female within range, and he (very realistically) strikes out about 70% of the time.  However, there is still much to be learned from him, particularly about the power of persistence.

Anyone with even a hint of game who approaches enough people will eventually get a positive response.

Now, Jack does have game.  He’s relentlessly positive and enthusiastic, his energy is contagious, his delivery is smooth as silk (thanks to all that practicing in the mirror, and on all the other women on whom he has used his lines), he knows when to escalate, and he speaks in intriguingly vague and cosmic terms.

We see Jack at his most effective in his first approach of the movie.  I’ll dissect exactly what he did right with “Karen” because, at least from a PUA standpoint, it’s all downhill from there.

Situational opener: Jack takes advantage of a rare opportunity by hitting Karen up immediately after she has just kicked a man on the street for pinching her derriere.  Not only does Jack automatically look better in contrast to the groper, he has an automatic excuse to talk to her as well as an opportunity to ally himself with her against “men like that.”

False time constraint and disqualifier: Jack opens by telling Karen that he’s just going to say one thing, and then he’ll disappear from her life forever.  This puts her at ease by letting her know that she isn’t expected to engage in some lengthy exchange with him, and that he is not looking for anything from her.  At the same time, it raises the stakes for this interaction, creating a feeling of “now or never.”  Still, she is initially put off by his tryhard body language (following her, leaning toward her, generally encroaching on her space with no invitation to be there), so he’s got to work fast to disarm her pickup defense system.

Appreciation:  Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to open with a compliment, since it is an obvious IOI (indicator of interest), it lowers your relative value, and it makes your intent to pick up painfully apparent.  However, Jack has found a loophole in this particular instance by expressing appreciation for a specific action on the part of his PIQ.  He is perhaps a bit too effusive, offering a list of excessively complimentary adjectives to describe the act (heroic, graceful, etc.).  Still, the appreciation comes off as plausibly genuine and refers to something of which she herself is actually proud, so it helps Jack to break down her defenses rather than reinforcing them.

Demonstration of higher value: Jack’s next trick is to tell Karen that every woman he has ever met and “given great satisfaction to,” he has met on the street.  This makes him seem refreshingly honest and up-front, as well as helping him to come across as successful and skilled in the romantic arena.  She gives him a bit of a smile, a clear IOI, and moves in for the kill…

Reframing:  Rather than using a closing line on Karen, he quotes to her the line he has (successfully) used on other women he met on the street as being,

“Hi, my name’s Jack Jericho.  I like you.  Do you like me?”

He gives her no time to respond, since he is not actually using the line on her, so there is no pressure on her to decide whether or not she likes him.  Instead, she is impressed with his ballsy, open-book approach, and intrigued by him.  He has successfully reframed his pickup line as a story, but still delivered it and gotten the desired result.  She is smiling now, waiting for whatever comes next.

Roll off:  When he has finished, Jack simply turns and starts to walk off, holding to his original promise to say one thing and then leave her alone.  But since he has done such an excellent job of building intrigue and demonstrating how valuable he is, she gives chase, calling him back and thanking him.

Fearless number close: After exchanging names, Jack asks, “May I ask you a personal question?”  When she responds in the positive, he asks, as though the thought just occurred to him, “Would you give me your phone number?”  She asks if he has something to write with, but to make her feel special he tells her he will remember it because he would never forget anything so important.

Jack also demonstrates some important socially savvy qualities in his first conversation with Lulu (Victoria Jackson).  Although he is, as usual, making his intentions painfully transparent (she even says as much; her response to his infamous “did anybody ever tell you…” line is, “nobody that wasn’t trying to pick me up”), his general attitude is spot-on.  He is funny, enthusiastic, playful, confident, and able to exert social pressure without any underlying threat.  His flame burns bright and Lulu is mesmerized despite herself.  He has also mastered the art of not allowing rejection to negatively impact the way he interacts with intended audiences, in PUA lingo this imperviousness is known as “ghost.”  Finally, he shows remarkable courage in standing up to Lulu’s obviously dangerous boyfriend, only backing down when there is an actual gun in his face.

Other than that, Jack’s technique is largely disastrous.  He all but tackles women on the street, smothering them with compliments and giving no indication of his own value except as an appreciative audience.  He talks far too much, and far too quickly, leaving little or no opportunity to actually get to know his PIQ.  His insecurities are painfully apparent, and he misguidedly aims for quantity rather than quality in his relentless phone-number collecting, resulting in a lot of phone calls that end in a “Jack who?” and a click.  His initial success with the female protagonist, Randy (Molly Ringwald), is due more to fate (and to her help) than to his efforts.  In fact, it is despite his corny routine and nonstop blabbering that she decides to give him a whirl.

Ironically, Jack is actually a very charismatic and lovable guy naturally, yet he has buried his true self under a mountain of cheese.  A beloved and dedicated teacher who has taken it upon himself to care for his ailing grandmother is much more attractive, and a helluva lot more endearing, than a smooth-talking womanizer.

When he finally drops the act and actually focuses his energy on Randy, he transforms into a brave, risk-taking, loyal and dedicated lover, and Randy can’t help but fall for him.

So, the overriding lesson of this film is: never let your game outshine you.  Game is simply a tool that YOU wield in order to get the opportunity for an PIQ to get to know YOU.  Your Avatar should not be a mask that conceals or obscures your identity, but makeup that enhances and shows you off to best advantage.