Sixteen Candles (1984)

“This is the single worst day of my entire life.”

Sixteen Candles Poster

Synopsis:
A teenager (Molly Ringwald) who is upset that no one in her family remembers her sixteenth birthday lusts after a hunky classmate (Michael Schoeffling), but must deal instead with the attentions of an insistent geek (Anthony Michael Hall).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
In his directorial debut, writer-director John Hughes is, as Peary notes, moderately successful in “making a comedy out of teenage angst, pain, and insensitivity”. Ringwald is “absolutely fantastic [at] presenting a real, special teenager” — and while she’s not always likable (she “can be cruel — as she reveals in her insults toward Hall”), most will be able to relate to at least one of her many pressing adolescent dilemmas. Equally enjoyable is Anthony Michael Hall as The Geek — a larger-than-life comedic foil who emerges as an empathetic character, and is someone we can’t help liking and rooting for; his interactions with Ringwald are the highlights of the film. Unfortunately, much of the screenplay is far too sophomoric to appeal to anyone but younger audiences — all scenes featuring Gedde Watanabe’s infamous Asian exchange student, Long Duk Dong, for instance, are particularly cringe-worthy. However, Sixteen Candles should probably be seen once by all film fanatics simply for its historical relevance as the first of Hughes’ series of groundbreaking teenage films.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anthony Michael Hall as “The Geek”
    Sixteen Candles Hall
  • Molly Ringwald as Samantha (Peary nominates her for an Alternate Oscar as Best Actress of the Year)
    Sixteen Candles Ringwald
  • Paul Dooley as Samantha’s father

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical importance as Hughes’ directorial debut.

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One Response to “Sixteen Candles (1984)”

  1. A once-must, for the generally likable performances, esp. Hall and Michael Schoeffling.

    It is now considered a teen classic – and I suppose, in a way, it is – but I wouldn’t call it a great or all-that-memorable comedy. However, seeing it again now after many years, I was struck by its overall amiable quality. There is a great deal that is pleasant about the film – particularly the casting. Basically I would say the film belongs to Hall – and he’s the main reason to give the film a look. His geek (with a difference) performance is spot-on throughout and he makes each moment that he’s in count, doing the oddest things with gestures and his (sometimes squeaky) voice. (A particular fave bit is when Schoeffling discovers Hall’s ‘fate’ at the end of a wild party at his home.) In one extended sequence, Hall and Schoeffling finally bond as buds – which is one of the film’s best written scenes. Schoeffling has a welcome naturalness in his hunk role – his understating and sensitivity are perhaps richer because the actor was actually 24 at the time. (Schoeffling only made 10 films, including nice performances in ‘Slaves of New York’ and ‘Longtime Companion’, before leaving the business to raise a family.)

    None of the supporting actors have very much to do but what’s enjoyable about that is the little screen time they’re given is taken advantage of wonderfully. I’m thinking mainly of the four actors playing the grandparents: Billie Bird & Carole Cook are both adorable; Edward Andrews & Max Showalter are both their dependably comic selves. (Showalter – of ‘Niagara’ fame – retired from the screen after this film; Andrews made one last film after this one – ‘Gremlins’ – before he passed on.) Also lively are Liane Curtis as Ringwald’s BFF, John Cusack and Darren Harris as best-bud nerds (“Girl’s underpants!”) and Justin Henry (the kid from ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’) as Ringwald’s annoying little brother. Even Joan Cusack is charming and goofy in a small role – with no lines! (Oh, wait a minute…she has one line: “…Uh, yeah!”)

    Carlin Glynn (a stand-out the next year as Jessie Mae in ‘The Trip to Bountiful’) and Dooley actually make a terrific – almost sexy – married couple, mainly because they seem such wonderfully centered parents (!).

    Basically, the actor I have the most difficulty with is Ringwald – and I’m not all that sure why. I wish I had more sympathy with her character. Aside from Hall (actually), all of the characters in this paper-thin film are also rather paper-thin. ~which seems to work just fine for the ones with less screen-time; in Ringwald’s case, it’s a little regrettable.

    Though, overall, the cast makes the time fly nicely (and there’s a spiffy soundtrack – most notably, brilliant use of Thompson Twins’ ‘If You Were Here’ at film’s end), the film does have some pacing problems due to some of the material falling flat (i.e., that Asian character stuff just does not work, at all). As a writer, Hughes is best at capturing family chaos (“Dad! Mike hit me!”) and those moments when teen angst is hilarious (“I can’t believe my grandmother actually felt me up!”). This first film by him is more or less the one I find most watchable (though I have a weird fondness for ‘Weird Science’).

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