Down From the Shelf ~ Sixteen Candles

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young girl’s sixteenth birthday becomes anything but special as she suffers from every embarrassment possible.

Stars: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling, Justin Henry, Carlin Glynn, Haviland Morris, Gedde Watanabe, Paul Dooley

Director: John Hughes

Rated: PG

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Few films that are about a specific time and place can truly stand the test of time. Changing ideals and styles have a way of making movies into cinematic time capsules of a landscape long since forgotten and it takes something special to make a movie truly timeless. Sixteen Candles is a great example of how a film can stay relevant and entertaining decades after it was originally released.

Celebrating its 30th birthday in May of 2014, Sixteen Candles couldn’t be more early 80s if it tried. From stereotypical insensitivity that was barely scoffed at at the time to jokes about floppy disks and a soundtrack that could be released as a I Love the 80s compilation CD, the film from writer/director John Hughes should be on display in the National History Museum if they were to do an exhibit on 80’s entertainment. Yet it remains deeply funny and, yes, timeless, especially to this reviewer that’s seen it dozens of times.

The first of only eight films that Hughes directed himself, it would serve as a launching pad to his mini-monopoly of the teen genre with now-classic 80s films like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and my personal fave, the underappreciated Some Kind of Wonderful. After scripting Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes got the greenlight to bring his script about a teen girl having the worst sixteenth birthday she could imagine to the screen. Written specifically for rising star Molly Ringwald (whom Hughes had never met), it’s about so much more than having a bad birthday as it centers around two days in the life of Samantha Baker and her eccentric family and friends.

Capturing the life of a teenager from 1984 complete with the awkward self-doubt, the embarrassing notes passed in class, the terrifying prospect of having no one to slow dance with, and that unrequited love that plagues our upbringing, Hughes really showed a sensitivity to his audience in the way he represented what teenagers actually sounded like. In much the same way that Diablo Cody’s unique voice came through in her screenplay for Juno, Hughes proved right away that he had a magical “in” to this teen world.

Aside from the appealing performance of Ringwald, Hughes has a dynamite cast of older and younger talent that helps to make the film all the more memorable. There’s Anthony Michael Hall as a notorious freshman geek fixated first on getting into sophomore Ringwald’s pants only to wind up helping her connect with her senior crush Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling, Mermaids). Schoeffling is appropriately dreamy as Jake but over the years a shallowness to the performance becomes more evident. Carlin Glynn, Paul Dooley, Blanche Baker, and Justin Henry have nice moments as Ringwald’s family, not to mention the four established actors that play her dotty/doting grandparents.

Though in theory Gedde Watanabe’s (Gung Ho) efforts as exchange student Long Duk Dong (insert laugh here) are admirable, it’s difficult to not cringe often in the way Hughes approaches this character. With some very un-PC references (not only to this characters but with the multiple gay slurs) and a penchant for a gong sound effect to follow every time someone utters the name Long Duk Dong, it’s the one part of the film that hasn’t aged well.

In 1984 the PG-13 rating hadn’t yet been invented and with the f-bomb dropped before the opening title and some surprising nudity early on, it’s a wonder Sixteen Candles snagged a PG rating rather than the R Hughes would receive for his next film, The Breakfast Club. Both films are more in the PG-13 category but it’s fairly amazing Sixteen Candles skated by with merely a PG.

Thirty years after it was released Sixteen Candles still holds a canny replay factor that keeps me coming back. While the slapsticky final 20 minutes aren’t nearly as strong as the previous 70, it’s not enough to keep me away from sitting through the film any time I catch it on TV. It remains a smart representation of teen life, delivered with style by one of the gatekeepers of the genre.

One comment on “Down From the Shelf ~ Sixteen Candles

  1. le0pard13 says:

    You nailed why this John Hughes film has stood the test of time, Joe. Fine review.

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