Sixteen Candles Movie Review

It's difficult to explain the draw that Sixteen Candles still exerts almost two decades after its original release - and next to impossible if you're talking to someone who wasn't in high school at some point prior to 1990. On the surface, the premise is nothing spectacular: Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) has just turned sixteen, but her family is so obsessed with her older sister's wedding the next day, that they forget. Further complicating Sam's life is the fact that she's hopelessly in love with senior über-hunk Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling (who?)) - who already has the prom-queen for a girlfriend - and she's being stalked by a freshman (Anthony Michael Hall, whose character is given no other name in the credits but "The Geek.")

Sam chases after Jake, while The Geek chases after Sam. After one school dance, your standard '80s teen party - including requisite shots of piles of junk food and empty beer cans, as well as throngs of kids in brightly colored sweaters dancing badly in somebody's suburban living room - and a late night ride in a Rolls Royce driven by a kid without a license, true love will somehow manage to prevail.

The story proves surprisingly fertile ground, though, as it gives the movie the opportunity not only to explore teen/parent resentment, but forlorn love, unwanted love, hellish weddings and the nagging idea that a sixteenth birthday should change everything that's wrong in one's life but probably won't. The resulting movie is not only one of the greatest teen movies of all time, but probably the funniest ever made by John Hughes. A pretty hot comedy writer at the time, Hughes already had hits like Mr. Mom and Vacation to his credit when he pushed to be allowed to direct his own script. It was probably for the best, because Hughes's direction, though occasionally crude, was idiosyncratic enough that it played up the sometimes offbeat comedy. Plus, he cast the movie's teen roles with complete unknowns like Ringwald and Hall, threw in a nifty New Wave soundtrack (courtesy of music supervisor Jimmy Iovine, now the impresario at Interscope records), and may have started the trend of scoring scenes with the themes from old TV shows (Dragnet, Peter Gunn, and The Twilight Zone are all used for simple gags here).

Some of the humor on display here is so crude that it manages to avoid being offensive, even when it should be (there's a healthy dose of white flight fear lurking in the movie's ethnic caricatures). The guy that Sam's older sister is marrying is Italian and referred to generally as "the oily bohunk;" to drive the point further home, the theme from The Godfather is played at one point. Then there's the issue of the Donger: Gedde Watanabe gets the seemingly thankless task of playing exchange student Long Duk Dong, who comes to Sam's house with her grandparents and gets foisted on her as a companion to the school dance, where he quickly scores a girlfriend and later tears up the town on a drunken binge. It was bad enough that everybody in the movie refers to him as a "Chinaman" (even though his name sounds Vietnamese), but then why does he shout "Banzai!" at one point? Through some strange sleight of hand that can only be explained by brilliant comic timing, Watanabe makes the role sing, and practically walks away with the movie; in the midst of all the teen angst, he's practically the only one having a great time.

Realistic? Yes, in a way. If a sociologist was, for some reason, studying the customs of kids in affluent North Shore of Chicago suburbs (where Sixteen Candles was shot), they could do worse than to start with this movie. It gets all the details just right. Ringwald and Hall do pretty good work for newcomers, Hall especially, playing the self-described "king of the dipshits," a loser who knows he's a loser but at least commands the respect of all the other losers. Look for a very young John Cusack as one of The Geek's henchman.

Universal's "High School Reunion" DVD is as simple as it gets, with a barely-passable picture transfer (hardly better than watching on video) and remastered sound that at least makes the songs from Bowie, Prince, and Billy Idol more audible than they used to be.


Comments

Sixteen Candles Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG, 1984

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