Sixteen Candles (1984) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA rated: PG for nudity, sexuality, teen drinking and language (originally rated R, but appealed) -- probably a strong PG-13 today.
Running time: 93 min.

Cast: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling, Haviland Morris, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Gedde Watanabe, Carlin Glynn, Blanche Baker, Edward Andrews, Billie Bird, Carole Cook, Max Showalter, Liane Curtis, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Brian Doyle-Murray
Bit role: Jami Gertz, John Kapelos, Zelda Rubinstein
Director: John Hughes
Screenplay: John Hughes
Review published December 15, 2012

sixteen candles molly ringwaldIt's the day before Samantha Baker's (Ringwald, Spacehunter) older sister's wedding. It's also Samantha's birthday. While her family all fuss and fret over the nuptials, they completely forget Sam on her 'Sweet 16'. The embarrassing grandparents are in her bed, and she can't get a moment's peace or attention. The day just gets worse as she attends school and she inadvertently reveals her secret crush on the high school's hottest hunk, a senior named Jake (Schoeffling, Mermaids), who happens to be dating the hottest girl in school. She wants a boyfriend, but the only guy to give her attention is a horny freshman dweeb dubbed Ted the Geek (Hall, Six Pack).

Sixteen Candles marks the debut directorial effort than quintessential 1980s teen-movie auteur, John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Weird Science), working from his own script. Hughes is able to tap directly in to the feeling of high school teenagers in a way few can, and turn their awkwardness and need for status into insightful comedies that teens, and even many adults, can instantly relate to. Unlike his later works, which tended to be comedies with serious dramatic moments, Sixteen Candles runs as a fairly light comedy through and through. But the delight of a Hughes feature comes from the small details he is able to get right, from the wardrobe, lingo, and attitudes -- even the way they party -- and does so without talking down to its audience. A particular strength has always been his use of the hit soundtrack to not only punctuate each scene, but go with the mood of the film in ways that work. The depiction of teen angst, however, is what many relate to, and Hughes is able to bring it out brilliantly.

Contrary to teen films nowadays, the original R rating had been par for the course for films aimed at teenagers, who seemed to still be able to flock to the theaters to see the film despite the restrictive rating. Nevertheless, that didn't stop the studio from appealing (and mystifyingly earning) a PG rating, which a film with this much sexual content, nudity and language would never have an inkling of today (parents, take this as a fair warning). 

As astute as Hughes could be with how sensitively he handles teenage intimacy, much of the humor is quite broad and obvious -- a carry-over from his days writing for National Lampoon. In particular, the Asian exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Watanabe, UHF) is played entirely as a caricature for easy laughs, and there will be many who see the portrayal as wildly stereotypical and insensitive (the name alone seems a suggestive pun). Others will probably just laugh at it precisely for that reason. And, typical of a 1980s teen flick, there is still a penchant for gratuity in its showcasing of superfluous sexual escapades, casual beer and drug wildness, and authority figures who are completely clueless to whatever's going on.

The film would put Molly Ringwald into the public eye as a teen screen queen, though her best work will always be the three consecutive films she would make with Hughes. The same would go for Anthony Michael Hall, starring as Ted, who gives one of the best performances in the movie, drawing out his virginal dweeb persona that he'd carry through Hughes' films in the years to come. (The film also features smaller roles for future stars John and Joan Cusack.)

Sixteen Candles is a quintessential movie for those wanting to study the films of the 1980s, particularly from the perspective of the films aimed at teenagers. Its success spurned on many 'ugly duckling' teen movie imitators, but rarely as funny or as sweet. For those looking for films that mark the decade, reminiscing through the works of Hughes, or just want to see an example of a teen rom-com done well, this should be among your first choices in either category.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo