Sixteen Candles - 1984
Sixteen Candles comes from the mind of writer-director John Hughes. You know, the man who defined the childhood of millions of people by directing movies like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. He also served as writer for Home Alone 1&2, Christmas Vacation, Beethoven, Dennis the Menace and 96’ s 101 Dalmatians. When I think of Hughes, I think of my childhood. So, how about we talk about the movie that arguably launched his career and the career of its stars, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. The story is basically a coming of age story set on the sixteenth birthday of Samantha, an overlooked, “normal” teenager struggling in school and at home.
I will say this right off the bat: you will never catch me saying that Hughes’ movies are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Many of the adults depicted in this movie are usually completely clueless to the struggles of their teen counterparts. This can be explained away by saying the movies are usually from the point of view of the teens and that’s how they see the adults. Ringwald, in her first leading role, plays Samantha, a girl one of the jocks calls “void,” as there is nothing there. She struggles to find what defines her in this world while still giving the respect and attention she craves to the “outcasts” around her. Even though Hughes typically underwrites his adult characters Samantha’s father is her best source of wisdom and helps her understand her self-worth.
He overuses stereotypes to fuel his character motivations and push the plot forward. This can be explained away by saying that he was utilizing these stereotypes to showcase how we are all essentially the same and these are just boxes the world forces on us. I am stretching a little here, but it’s not a bad stretch. One of the characters that play into the stereotypes is Farmer Ted played by Anthony Michael Hall. He is the self-proclaimed “king of the dipshits”, who are essentially the nerds of the school. Even though he is a walking talking stereotype, he growth in the movie is by far the best aspect. There is a touching moment between him and Samantha and how he only acts this way to keep up appearances. Something everyone, especially teenagers struggle with in life.
Finally, all his movies tend to end in an “and they lived happily ever after” movie trope. A lot of comedies today are guilty of the same thing, since that is what audiences have come to expect. SPOILER: While Samantha does end up with the jock in the end, I still find that her true victory came when she saw her family and Ted as flawed humans just like her. Her realization of we are all just trying our best in the end is what we should take away as an audience.
While they aren’t perfect, Hughes’ movies are extremely entertaining and funny. The best compliment I can give him is that he found a way to make boring, mundane, day-to-day stuff seem entertaining and funny. In Sixteen Candles he explored, among other things, how funny it can be dealing with your family. One of my favorite scenes comes when she is dealing with her grandparents. She walks in on them as they are unpacking and they are wearing what she would consider “old people clothes”. What I like about this shot is how Hughes uses the POV to examine how she sees them. It’s always a plus that they are cute and hilarious as they rattle off all their ailments.
Quick note: the Cusack siblings are in this movie and both are hilarious. Especially Joan with her neck-brace.
Sixteen Candles has a great soundtrack throughout the entire movie. There are key songs that fit perfectly with the overall theme of the movie and fit perfectly. The aspect that I most like about it is that it feels like a soundtrack a teenager of the 80’s would’ve created. It feels like a time capsule of pop culture.
I want to touch on a couple of aspects that might turn off a segment of the audience, especially ones who have never seen the movie before. There is a character of Asian descent called Long Duk Dong, played by Gedde Watanabe. He is essentially a caricature of what we know of Asian stereotypes. In today’s Hollywood, that character would never exist. The only silver lining is that they didn’t go full Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but cast an actor of Asian descent. There is also certain use of inflammatory language that is 100% a product of its time. Finally, there is a “drunk girl” sequence that is sketchy at best.
Sixteen Candles is one of the better Hughes’ movies and it’s a career-defining role for its stars. Despite all its faults, this movie is extremely re-watchable and entertaining. John Hughes’ defining my childhood is why I love movies.
Sixteen Candles is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Just don’t forget to watch it.
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