Sixteen Candles (1984) Review

On the eve of her sister’s wedding, suburban teenager Samantha (Molly Ringwald) suffers silently as her family forgets her birthday. Even worse, some total dork (Anthony Michael Hall) keeps propositioning her with sophomoric innuendo when she really craves romantic attention from high-school hunk Jake (Michael Schoeffling).-Rotten Tomatoes

Sixteen Candles is the first in the series of films written and directed by John Hughes that left and continues to leave a permanent mark on pop culture. It’s one of the weaker entries, but it’s by no means a bad film. The writing, acting, directing, and humor are all strong, just not as strong as they could be, or compared to the follow-ups.

Molly Ringwald plays the lovelorn, slightly dorky teenager Samantha who, despite being an identifiable character, is not a fantasy fulfillment for the audience. She brings her persona to the role, and performs admirably, putting any modern day cliché (cough cough Bella) to shame. The rest of the characters are… ok. The acting is adequate, but a majority of the characters are stereotypes, at least to start with. As we get to know them we find that they are very much not cardboard cutouts, but sometimes the acting can’t support these role changes, particularly with Jake, the love interest. Another… almost awkward stereotype comes in the caricature of an Asian that is Duck. As the film progresses he becomes more human, but that doesn’t mean the first half of his scenes aren’t uncomfortable to sit through. The other notable Brat Pack role in this movie is Anthony Michael Hall as The Geek, a role he repeats and refines as his career goes on. His cocky but lovable character is a great example of part of this film’s appeal. We all knew people in school and our life like the people in this fictional school and fictional life. From the comic relief to the leads, we all knew these characters in some form, perhaps one that was perhaps less exaggerated. Except the chick from Poltergeist. No one is as awesome as her.

The film’s set in a two day span, a snapshot of a turning point in Samantha’s life. This form allows more emphasis to be put on characters and not narrative, and is quite familiar for those who are Kevin Smith fans. The film is the epitome of the 80s, from the clichés, to the clothes and settings, to the soundtrack, and to the pop culture references. Pop culture references are common in this movie, particularly auditory cues from various TV shows. This type of gag is probably best used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but it works ok here. That’s not all this movie has going for it though, with its witty dialogue being the best used and most effective of its humor. It’s only passably realistic, but it serves its purpose in that it makes you laugh.

The movie’s nostalgic feel, stereotypes, clichés, identifiable characters, loose narrative, and humor and swirl together to make this realistic, yet unrealistic, atmosphere. It feels like a movie, but it also to a lesser degree, feels like reality. You pass off the cartoony sound effects and Dragnet music because you’re charmed by this movie. Charmed by the world that Hughes creates. An everyman’s world where your teenage years come back to life, or go down an alternate path (depending on your age). It’s hard to describe for those who have never seen a Hughes movie before, but it’s unique and memorable above all else. Even wanna-be Hughes movies, like Better Off Dead, can’t pull off that blend of honesty and humor, and it’s really a credit to the strong writing and directing.

The ending of this movie feels… odd in that it’s a happily ever after ending. It’s more neatly wrapped together then other Hughes films, and for a newer generation that can be hard to accept. The honesty of the movie that transcends generations seems to stop at the ending for me and for my generation. This film’s subtle message of “It can get better” that’s really just created by having a happy ending is hard to accept for us because we are so used to harsh endings. Even if things turn out ok, there are still problems to be dealt with. That seems to be the burden of our generation. We have a hard time accepting that happy ending when we can flip on our computers and see that it’s all a lie. We have to have YouTube videos of celebrities reminding us that “It Gets Better” because we have such a hard time believing it. Unfortunately, our movies, TV shows, etc… are not giving us this message like they used to. In fact there really isn’t a teen movie that embodies this generation like Hughes did for the 80s or Empire Records and a few others did for the 90s. The closest we have is Perks of Being a Wallflower, but even that deals with issues too… shall we say mature, for the average teenager. No instead we are spoon-fed terrible horror and action movies, with the occasional comedy that’s actually intended for adults. It’s a sad state we live in, but hopefully one that will be alleviated in some upcoming cultural shift of tides.

Back to Sixteen Candles (oh yeah that was a thing), it’s a movie that’s worth watching. Worth buying. Worth watching over and over again. Worth showing to your kids and grand kids and so on. It’s a movie that every teen should watch and perhaps out of the handful of Hughes films, one that everyone should watch. The plot itself deals with a girl’s crush, so it may be boring to a male audience, but I highly doubt it. It has plenty of male conflict and lowest denominator humor to keep almost everyone satisfied. It’s a light comedy, not too raunchy, not too high brow, and is sure to appeal to the teenager inside (or outside) of you. It leaves you wanting more, and luckily there is. May the 80s live on!

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