The film Sixteen Candles was John Hughes’ first film as a director setting him firmly in the role of the director who could understand “teenspeak”. Throughout his career Hughes was acclaimed for his ability to encapsulate the angst and drama of the teenage experience without being condescending.
Sixteen Candles revolves around Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald- who appeared in numerous films by Hughes) whose family forgets her birthday because her pretty self-absorbed sister is getting married the next day. However, more importantly, this film is about Jake Ryan. Jake Ryan is the typical teenage girl fantasy; he’s rich, nice, good-looking and is searching for a “serious relationship”. This fictional delusion has even inspired a cult following with “I Heart Jake Ryan” t-shirts available over the internet. Samantha loves Jake Ryan from a distance and thinks that we would never notice a girl like her.
This film has been associated with the beginning of the Brat Pack as its Hughes’ first directorial debut in the teen genre. It also catapulted Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall to stardom and led to many other films that were a product of the Brat Pack, such as The Breakfast Club, St Elmos Fire and Weird Science.
Ringwald’s depiction of Samantha beautifully captures the awkward and often embarrassing existence of the average teen. While the language is now dated the issues and psychology inherent within the film still remains relevant today.
Stereotypes dominate the film, as they did in many of Hughes’ films, though one could argue that this was just a reflection and response to the settings of his films, many of which were set in high school. One stereotype in this film was the role of “The Geek” played by Anthony Michael Hall who bet his friends he could get Samantha’s underpants for a dozen floppy disks. While this is obviously a cliche Hall’s portrayal is at times sensitive and frequently humorous- the film does not mock geeks but embraces their quirks. All the characters in John Hughes’ films, even those that are stereotypes, are multi-dimensional individuals. This is most clearly demonstrated in Hughes’ classic film The Breakfast Club.
Another stereotype which has divided critics is the character of Long Duk Dong, the Chinese exchange student who stays in Samantha’s house. Some critics believe that this character is a racist portrayal of a Chinese person. Others, like critic Roger Ebert, believe that the actor Gedde Watanabe who played Dong “eleveates his role from a potentially offensive stereotype to high comedy”.
Essentially this film is about wish fulfillment. This film is for every teenage girl who has looked on from afar and wished that she was the girl on that guy’s arm. It is a film that is not only surprisingly human but surprisingly real as well. The opinions and dreams of the teenagers in this film are simple and lovingly crafted. It also shows us a time when teen films actually seemed to be about characters and their bittersweet dreams rather than how much gratuitous sex and violence they can engage in within a two-hour period.
I would give this film 3 1/2 out of 5 as while it is an excellent film, when compared to other John Hughes films its just not as memorable or heartbreaking. Please comment and tell me what you think of this film and John Hughes. Also what do you think is the best John Hughes movie? I’ll be reviewing more movies each week