Sixteen Candles

(USA 1984)

“I can’t believe this. They fucking forgot my birthday!”

—Samantha

It’s not a good day for Samantha (Molly Ringwald). Her entire family, including both sets of grandparents, totally forget her birthday—her “sweet sixteen,” no less. Everyone is focused on her older sister, Ginny (Blanche Baker), who is getting married to oily bohunk Rudy (John Kapelos) tomorrow. A sex questionnaire she fills out and thinks she passes to her friend Randy (Liane Curtis) during class is missing—and she admitted in it that she’d gladly lose her v-card to dreamboat senior Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). Jake doesn’t know she exists—or so she believes. A freshman geek who calls himself “Farmer Ted” (Anthony Michael Hall) puts the moves on her while taking the bus home. Her grandfather Fred (Max Showalter) calls her boobs tiny while her grandmother Helen (Carole Cook) grabs them because “they’re so perky.” She’s coerced into taking a Chinese exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), to a dance that evening—where she runs into Jake and Farmer Ted, the latter of whom ends up with her underpants. To top it off, she has to sleep on the couch because her grandparents are using her bedroom.

I’m a sucker for teen movies, maybe because deep inside I’m still a teen or wish I still was. Either way, I love John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles for all its goofiness, crude humor, and heart. Ringwald owns Samantha, a different and very Gen X kind of heroine: she’s angsty, gutsy, and fun. Plus, she has substance. Samantha liberally uses the F word, yet she wants all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas. She’s totally relatable—in fact, she reminds me of a dear friend (I’m talking to you, Michelle) in this film. I want the Bow Wow Wow and Culture Club posters on her bedroom walls. Likewise, Hall owns Farmer Ted, a different and very Gen X kind of dork: he’s got personality, and he dreams big. Things works out for him in the end, I guess.

One of the best scenes is an exchange between Samantha and Farmer Ted in a parked car inside a shop classroom. In typical Hughes fashion, the two talk and discover that they’re not so alien. I love what’s pretty much Jami Gertz’s only lines, indignantly and drunkenly slurred at a party to a guy off camera while she catches on a banister a string of pearls around her neck: “I’m sorry, I don’t do that!” When her drunk friend next to her mumbles that she does, Gertz snickers, “I know!” Seeing a baby John Cusack as a nerd (this was only his second appearance in a film) is special. The wedding is awesome, but the final scene in which Samantha finally gets Jake still sends chills up my spine—“If You Were Here” by Thompson Twins plays while car after car drives away, ultimately revealing him standing there across the street from the church. It’s downright magical.

Sixteen Candles has its dubious elements—Long Duk Dong smacks of racism, the word “faggot” is a bit too casually pervasive, and the appearance of Farmer Ted taking advantage of Caroline (Haviland Morris) when she’s passed out is creepy despite portraying it in a relatively innocent and humorous light. I can’t help but wonder whether these flaws detract from the film when viewing it through the lens of the present. I hope not—Sixteen Candles is a classic fairy tale that never gets old for me.

93 minutes
Rated PG

(Home via iTunes) B+

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