Sixteen Candles (1984) – John Hughes

There are lots of things that still work with John Hughes teen comedy, Sixteen Candles, but there are so many problematic things that have really begun to overshadow the story’s heart. There’s some racism, there’s some things that walk the line up to and over harassment and assault, and that really takes the shine off this classic.

It certainly wouldn’t be told the same way today.

That’s not to say I don’t love it. Hughes will always have a special place in my heart, because he always seemed to be able to write the teenaged voice as if he still were one, and I would have loved to hear his take on today’s teen world.

Sam (Molly Ringwald) isn’t expecting things to change too much, even on her 16th birthday, but what she doesn’t believe is that her entire family, which is currently swept up in her sister’s impending nuptials, has completely forgotten it!

She has her eye on a boy, Jake (Michael Schoeffling), who doesn’t know she exists, she’s hounded by a geek named Ted Farmer (Anthony Michael Hall) but is known as Farmer Ted, her grandparents have brought a foreign exchange student along for the experience, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) and things are going to get so much worse before her birthday is over.

Often blisteringly funny, with a wonderful heart, the film truly captures Sam’s teen angst. Even she knows it’s not the end of the world, but also recognizes that everything feels that way at that age.

Both John and Joan Cusack pop up in the film, which is laden with innuendo, iconic needle drops, quotable dialogue, and despite it’s aged trappings in some societal aspects, still a pretty entertaining movie (love the scene in the gym, when Jake is working out and the pair of kids in the background wrestling).

Ringwald brings an earnestness to her performance, and we’ve all had that moment at school when we’re close to having a break down, and someone passing by asking how you are, and you lie and say fine, because it’s all about projecting an image in high school.

Some of the stereotypes are taken to extremes in this film, the nerds suffer particularly. They also aren’t exempt from some of the horrendous behavior that shouldn’t have been considered funny then, and certainly isn’t now.

And no matter what Sam thinks of Jake, he’s a bit of a tool, especially in the way he treats his current girlfriend (Haviland Morris), so hopefully Sam doesn’t hang around in that relationship very long.

Problematic, and it’s amazing that we, as teenagers at the time, didn’t get it, didn’t see it, and just as sadly, accepted it. For all that, I still love my John Hughes films, and will explore a few more yet…

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