ABC Family ran Sixteen Candles a few weeks ago, so I recorded it. I just watched it, and, wow. That is some crap movie right there.
The plot is juvenile, the characters are stereotypical and there’s racism. Oh, and super obnoxious TV kids, why must there always be super obnoxious kids? I admit, it was very amusing in places, but others made my jaw drop. There were plenty of things that just were not funny to me. It alarms me that the whole theater was probably hooting.
So why was this film so popular? What made it a seminal movie of the 1980s? And what impact might it have had on the kids then, and kids now?
Sixteen Candles focuses on Samantha (played by Molly Ringwald), who is turning sixteen in the midst of turmoil. Her sister is getting married, the grandparents are coming to stay, they have to meet the in-laws, oh, and her younger siblings are brats. Her mother can’t even remember to make her lunch, let alone that it’s her birthday. On this same Friday, there’s a dance at school, followed by a senior after-party where everyone goes wild.
Sam has a huge crush on, you know, the most gorgeous guy at school. He’s already dating the most gorgeous girl at school, but she’s a partying bitch, and he’s starting to lose interest. He finds a handmade ‘sex survey’ note Sam filled out, naming him as the guy she’d like to do, and he spends the next 36 hours thinking about her. Sam is convinced he doesn’t know she exists, but she will change her behavior to make sure that if he does notice her, he won’t think badly of her! When she walks into the cafeteria and spots him, she dumps her tray on her friends and bolts. “I don’t want him to know that I eat!”
Yes, boy-induced-dieting makes for great teen comedy.
There is a boy who’s interested in sophomore Samantha, though. He’s a dinky geek of a freshman, and he’s coming onto her hard. Over the course of the film, she alternately rejects him and has soulful conversations with him. You could say they strike up a sort of friendship.
Then the film swings way away from Sam, and focuses on the tertiary characters. The geeks crash the senior party. Miss Perfect Senior gets wasted and trashes her boyfriend’s house. Unfunny jokes ensues.
Oh, and did I mention? Sam’s grandparents have taken in a Chinese exchange student named Long Duk Dong. He’s all stereotype. I was hoping that it would turn out he’d been playing them all, that he really could speak English or that he was American, but, no, he’s purely used for cheap laughs. He also gets really drunk. Wikipedia reports:
The character of Long Duk Dong was criticized for being racially insensitive and offensive to Asians and others who found that the character “represents one of the most offensive Asian stereotypes Hollywood ever gave America” and encouraged playground-taunting by quoting his stilted-English lines. [ Roger] Ebert defended him, writing that Gedde Watanabe “elevates his role from a potentially offensive stereotype to high comedy”.
I don’t know what Ebert was smoking.
There was also a one-liner near the beginning that made me do a double-take. Samantha and her friend are talking about her dream scenario for a Sweet Sixteen:
And some incredibly gorgeous guy that you meet in France. And you do it on a cloud without getting pregnant or herpes.
I don’t need the cloud. Just a pink Trans Am.
And the guy, right?
(agreeing) A black one.
(shock!) A black guy?
(obvious!) A black Trans Am! A pink guy.
Because dreaming of hot, totally safe sex with a black guy is so completely out of the realm of possibility? Come to think of it, I don’t think there was a single black person in this movie. Everyone was white, except Dong. You’d think all those establishing shots of the school during the credits would have at least some color. But, hey, 1983/84.
But what really made my skin crawl was the end to the big party. Everyone’s gone home before dawn (psh, lightweights), but Sam’s geek paramour is still at the gorgeous guy’s house because someone shoved him under a table. Geek and Popular Boy talk, bond, etc. Geek convinced PB that Sam really likes him and he should ask her out. But what about Popular Girl, who’s passed out drunk?
Keep in mind that, throughout this movie, ‘going home with’ someone is the choice euphemism for ‘lets go have sex.’
But I feel compelled to mention, Jake, if all you want is a piece of ass, I mean, I’ll either do it myself, or get someone bigger than me, to kick your ass. I mean, not many girls in contemporary American society today… would give their underwear to help a geek like me.
Jake [Perfect Boy]
I can get a piece of ass anytime I want. Shit, I got Caroline in my bedroom right now, passed out cold. I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to.
What are you waiting for?
I don’t know. She’s beautiful, and she’s built and all that. [Sighs] I’m just not interested anymore.
Does that really matter, guy?
Yeah, it matters. She’s totally insensitive. Look what she did to my house. She doesn’t know shit about love. Only thing she cares about is partying. I want a serious girlfriend. Somebody I can love, that’s gonna love me back. Is that psycho?
That’s beautiful, Jake. I think a ton of guys feel the same way as you do.
Yeah. It’s just they don’t… They don’t have the balls to admit it. You know? They’re just… They’re wimps. Samantha’s, uh…
She’s really special, you know?
I’ll make a deal with you. Let me keep these. I’ll let you take Caroline home. But you gotta make sure she gets home. You can’t leave her in some parking lot somewhere. Okay?
Jake, I’m only a freshman.
So? She’s so blitzed, she won’t know the difference.
Jake, I don’t have a car.
You can take mine.
Jake, I don’t have a license.
I trust you.
Jake, I’d love to. I can’t.
But he does! Ted drives Jake’s father’s Rolls Royce, with Caroline in the passenger seat. A six-pack of beer is tossed in for the ride. Oh, and neither of them is wearing a seat belt. WAY TO GO, 80s MOVIE! Rape AND drunk driving! Oh, and all of this is played for laughs. I felt a bit ill.
Caroline is so far gone that she will do pretty much anything, so she rocks out, then kisses Ted–and he crashes the car.
Score, 80s movie. Really, you are made of so much win, it is hard for me to keep myself from humping my TV. </sarcasm>
Even better, they wake up outside the church where the wedding is being held. And, though they’re both completely, fully dressed they assume they had sex. I don’t know what kind of crap sex ed that school was teaching, but surely even our geeky freshman knows that you have to unbutton your jeans first?
Caroline is vaguely repentant, or at least, she isn’t grossed out. So it ends pretty amicably. But, really, what the hell?
“Sixteen Candles” was the first effort by writer/director John Hughes on his way to becoming the William Shakespeare of teenage angst. One really has to be aware of the climate of the early ’80s to truly understand the impact that this film had among teens. At the time, teen movies were merely a reason for 15 year old boys to sneak into theaters and see a bunch of healthy unclad co-eds. See: “Porky’s,” “Spring Break,” or countless others.
Hughes’ movies were revolutionary because they understood high school and got all the details right — what shoes kids wore, how couples walked together from class to class, the scary bus drivers, bored study hall monitors, and the romantic sex surveys of secretly passed notes. No movie since Kazan made cinematic love to James Dean in “East of Eden” had ever so closely chronicled the moping euphoria of teendom, the esctatic highs and the horrors of embarrassment. Hughes knew how kids talked, he knew how they partied and he knew the huge chasms of difference between Freshmen, Sophomores, and Seniors.
Now the overall appeal makes more sense. The film certainly does a decent job of portraying teen angst. The kids’ dialogue is pretty natural. I can certainly imagine how excellent it would feel to finally see a movie that portrayed my experience of high school. So, that explains the popularity.
Certainly, one of the best parts of the movie is a young Joan Cusack, playing a girl geek in a neck brace. She observes, she makes a comment or two, and she struggles away bravely in the background. No one cares. I’m sure plenty of kids looked at her and knew, just knew, that that character was for them.
I think what really made this movie is the fairy tale ending. Just look at this.
It’s been a disasterous two days. Your family forgot your birthday. Some geek has been trying to hit on you. Your sister’s wedding was a fiasco. But, at the end of the day, Mr. Gorgeous shows up out of nowhere to whisk you away in his hot red car, and offer you a birthday cake and a kiss. How romantic!
And that’s how it ends. Plenty of things still up in the air, and I’m having serious doubts about this guy who was willing to give his girlfriend away to a freshman who can’t drive to have sex with. What is Samantha getting into?
Lets chalk this one up as ‘Cool at the time, now please leave it in the tin and forget it exists.’