Sixteen Candles Does Not Age Well

by d

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[12] who found that the character “represents one of the most offensive Asian stereotypes Hollywood ever gave America”[13] and encouraged playground-taunting by quoting his stilted-English lines.[14] [ Roger] Ebert defended him, writing that Gedde Watanabe “elevates his role from a potentially offensive stereotype to high comedy”.[11]

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:

Friend
And some incredibly gorgeous guy that you meet in France. And you do it on a cloud without getting pregnant or herpes.

Samantha
I don’t need the cloud. Just a pink Trans Am.

Friend
And the guy, right?

Sam
(agreeing) A black one.

Friend
(shock!) A black guy?

Sam
(obvious!) A black Trans Am! A pink guy.

Both
(laughing)

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.’

Ted [Geek]
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.

Ted
What are you waiting for?

Jake
I don’t know. She’s beautiful, and she’s built and all that. [Sighs] I’m just not interested anymore.

Ted
Does that really matter, guy?

Jake
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?

Ted
That’s beautiful, Jake. I think a ton of guys feel the same way as you do.

Jake
Really?

Ted
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?

Jake
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?

Ted
Jake, I’m only a freshman.

Jake
So? She’s so blitzed, she won’t know the difference.

Ted
Jake, I don’t have a car.

Jake
You can take mine.

Ted
Jake, I don’t have a license.

Jake
I trust you.

Ted
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?

Dumbfounded that this, this “is considered by many as one of the best films of 1984.[7][8]” (Wiki), I did some research. And this is what I found:

“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.’

7 Responses to “Sixteen Candles Does Not Age Well”

  1. Yeah, I’ve always hated this movie, too. :p I never liked Mr. Awesome at all. He always struck me as an arrogant prick. There is a difference between self-confidence and arrogance. And there’s a difference between fun and stupidity. Given his age, he should’ve been more mature than he was. I can see why it was relevant at the time it was made, but it isn’t anymore and it’s just really the most boring, idiotic, terrible movie I’ve ever watched. I’m totally with you, let’s let it die now. It’s run it’s course. I can see why someone might play it on Molly Ringwald’s birthday or some other character’s birthday or the director’s or something like that. I can see that. However, other than that, there’s really no reason to put it out there as an example of anything except drivel.

    • For me, he only came off as arrogant in the latter half. Before that, he seems like a somewhat thoughtful doormat. He lets his crazy girlfriend walk all over him, threaten him, and destroy property, without a word. It could’ve been nice if he’d turned out to be an empathetic thinker, but that wouldn’t have worked for the character.

      Movie FAIL.

      • I agree with you. Total movie fail. And, he really was just arrogant at the end. Before you could see where he might have had a smidgen of potential, but it got thrown out the window. I disliked the movie greatly. I would not watch it over again, nor would I recommend it to someone else.

  2. I hope it’s not uber random that I’m commenting on your blog, like some weird, backseat blog commenter from cyber space. But, I actually own Sixteen Candles and, overall, I do like the movie–however, the reason I ended up at your blog is because I was Googling, trying to figure out why the movie is SUCH a “classic.” I mean, when it first came out, apparently, teens loved it, and I’m still wondering if it was the “romance” aspect, or if it was the blending of teen barriers (nerds, outcasts, average girls, and popular guys) that did it.

    Whatever it was, you definitely pointed out the main dislikes I have about the movie–that “a black guy?!” comment ALWAYS rubs me the wrong way; I also think that Long Duk Dong’s character is the height of stereotypical, and even if it were “high comedy” (which it’s most definitely not), the fact that his every entrance in the film is heralded by a gong-noise would be enough to smack the performance back down to the lowest rung of “comedy.” And, finally, that conversation between the nerdy kid and Jake, about Caroline, also skeeves me out a bit. It’s not so much Jake’s comment about being able to violate Caroline, which I always take as his way of saying “If I WERE a douche like my friends, I COULD violate her,” a fact that he obviously has no plans of acting on. As for the “She won’t know the difference” comment, I never took that as Jake implying that what’s-his-face, the nerd…Ted, should take advantage of Caroline; I always interpreted that as him meaning that Caroline wouldn’t protest to having a lowly freshman drive her home because she was too drunk to care WHO was driving her (or who she might be seen with).

    Given, I have a bit of a problem that Jake sends his passed out girlfriend out into the night with some random kid, who can’t even drive, but considering: a) her bitchiness, and b) the fact that she UTTERLY destroyed his house…you kinda can’t blame the guy.

    All in all, though, I think what makes people like this movie, 25 years later, is that it plays into desires to be accepted (i.e., average Samantha, by hot guy, Jake); as well, as people’s desire to find that perfect, true love, no matter how weird it might seem from the outside perspective. Fundamentally, even with all of the issues that arise looking at it from a modern perspective, it’s a feel-good film with (mostly) likable main characters who get the happy ending that the audience wants for them–and that the audience wants for themselves.

    Sappy? Yes. But people eat it up, and have for decades. Guess that’s why it’s considered one of those classic high school movies. Of course, the argument still stands that it’s probably not a quintessential reflection of today’s teens’ desires, fantasies–or, even, lifestyles–but, it’s kind of a time capsule, while still being partially timeless.

    Now, Pretty in Pink, on the other hand…THAT movie is just utter crap on 35mm film.

  3. …um, yeah, I didn’t realize how long and ranty my comment was going to be. Feel free to delete it if you’d like; I totally didn’t mean to write you a novella disguised as a comment.

    • Shandy,

      I LOVE long comments! I’m so glad you took the time to write so clearly about your feelings on the film. It’s not at all random that you found us–I’m glad you did! 🙂

      I think you’re right, the film indulges some of our deepest desires–to be liked, to go wild. The site I liked to about the reactions at the time indicates that this was pretty much the first teen movie in this style. That alone would’ve made it a hit, but it struck some untapped nerves in America’s teens, so it’s become iconic.

      It’s really indicative of just how much things can change in a short span of time. My radar goes off left and right in this film–racism, drunk driving, no seat belts! All things that were drummed into kids between the time this movie came out and I entered school. Now I, and others of my generation, take them for granted. It’s not just the fashion that’s changed, our ideas of morality have changed. Many people today consider smoking to be a character flaw or as close to a sin as you can get without sinning, but in the era of 16 Candles, smoking was still cool, and seat belts were blah.

      I’ve never seen Pretty in Pink… sounds like I do NOT want to!

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