What if I told you there was a movie that featured women having issues with their bodies, under aged sex and drinking, racism, possible slavery, nudity, drug use, pejorative terms for homosexuals, special-needs shaming, joy riding without a license, and organized crime? Would you guess that it was some kind of X-rated snuff film? One that might have been on the verge of being banned at one point? And ultimately one not worth watching? I would not blame you for making such assumptions. However, the piece of classic 1980s cinema I speak of is none other than Sixteen Candles (1984). For better or worse, I have now seen it.
Sixteen Candles begins with Samantha “Sam” Baker (Molly Ringwald) on her sixteenth birthday, standing in front of a mirror, and wishing that her body were more developed. Sigh. Get ready for more awfulness. At any rate, she had been fantasizing about her sixteenth birthday for years, and expected a fairy tale day. Instead, her entire family forgot, being caught up in preparations for her sister Ginny’s (Blanche Baker) imminent wedding. Already deflated, Sam schlepps off to school where her friend Randy (Liane Curtis) gives her a sex quiz. The salient question here regards with whom Sam would be willing to “go all the way.” This is when we learn about Sam’s dream crush, senior Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), who also happens to be in her home room and intercepts the note when Sam fails to pass it off to a snoozing Randy. Because these people are who they are, this revelation piques Jake’s interest. Thus he begins to ask around about this mysterious, to him, underclassman. One of the sources of information is a freshman, known simply in the credits as “The Geek” (Anthony Michael Hall). The Geek leads a band of like-minded individuals who egg him on in his own pursuit of Sam. After getting home to find that even her grandparents did not remember her birthday, Sam makes the half-hearted decision to attend a school dance that night. I say “half-hearted” because her grandparents foist on her the Asian exchange student they have taken in, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), who they treat more like a servant. While at the dance, all Sam’s attempts to muster up the courage to talk to Jake are thwarted both by her own shyness and the Geek’s forwardness. For whatever reason, she lets up a little on the Geek and gives him a pair of her underwear to show off to his friends. After the dance, and in return for this “kindness,” the Geek praises Sam to Jake at an out-of-control party thrown by his current girlfriend, Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris). This party ultimately does nothing for him aside from plunging his house into the kind of states that causes parents to disown their children. Jake then lets the Geek take Caroline home in his parent’s Rolls-Royce, despite the fact that the kid is too young to drive. When Sam returns home, it is then that her parents finally remember her birthday, which she takes with an admirable amount of grace. The next morning they all go to Ginny’s marriage to the son of an apparent crime family, which was made all the more “entertaining” by her loopy-ness brought on by taking enough muscle relaxers to cause a near coma. Just as everyone pulled away from the church, Jake shows up to finally whisk Sam away.
Sixteen Candles is part of the John Hughes pantheon of films, along with such (better) titles as The Breakfast Club (1985) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). In short, movies about high school life in 1980s Chicago suburbs. I really do not want to sound like the “holier than thou” Catholic film reviewer, but the thing that stood out most to me was the fact that all the characters searched for love in all the wrong places. Then again, having his characters undergo some kind spiritual journey is not really Hughes’ bailiwick. It is pretty simple. Jake wants to find a serious girlfriend, somebody to love and love him back. Sam wants to be that person. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this idea. The problem lies in believing that will bring the ultimate fulfillment they are actually seeking, which can only be found in God. There is also the fact that they are in high school . . . and all the rest of the crap that comes with it in this movie.
If you must watch a John Hughe’s film, check out the others I mentioned rather than Sixteen Candles. Outside of a little bit of magnanimity from Sam and Jake, there is little to recommend it. Does it have all the hallmarks of a classic 1980s film? Yes. But there are too many other aspects that show its age and irreverence that the other titles largely (with some exceptions) do not contain.