In many cinephiles eyes, John Hughes is the ultimate eighties filmmaker. His often raunchy and always sentimental teenage angst films film viewers with nostalgia for a simpler time when the woes of not being sexually attractive or popular outweighed the financial burdens of adulthood. His small-town American imagery was always ideal and implied unity amongst the most unlikely of friends, and his 1984 film Sixteen Candles is certainly no exception. However, what separates this film from his later works, particularly The Breakfast Club, is rawness. The dialogue, cinematography and general feel of the film leaves viewers with the impression that Hughes made the entire film on the fly, apparently using improvisation and accidentally good footage as his inspiration. In a way Sixteen Candles could be seen as Hughes’s Breathless, it is equally philosophical and certainly as problematic. Despite having class, race and gender issues the film is the piece-de-résistance in high school, given that it precedes The Breakfast Club and contains actors who would soon become icons of the 1980’s, most notably the films star Molly Ringwald, who would find little success after The Breakfast Club (The comparisons with Jean Seberg seem eerily convenient.) Ultimately, Sixteen Candles is sweet, quotable and a feel-good movie if ever one existed.
Sixteen Candles centers on the troublesome life of Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), a distraught girl whose sixteenth birthday turns out to be every expanding disaster. The film opens with Samantha claiming that she feels no physical change with her newly found age, noting specifically that her breasts are still unnoticeable. This self-esteem issue is only heightened by her own family’s failure to acknowledge her birthday due to their preoccupation with their other daughters impending wedding. Bewildered and depressed, Samantha heads to school and decides to fill out a secret sex survey, one in which she admits a strong desire to sleep with the school stud Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). Believing that she has passed the information to another girl, Samantha’s luck worsens when she realizes that the note in which she mentions Jake’s name has actually fallen into his hands. She beliefs her chances with the dreamy senior ruined. Beyond this, Samantha is incapable of shaking off the unyielding advances of a young man simply known as The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall), who, along with his posy, which includes a young John Cusack, attempt to win her heart. In the meantime, Jake admits his own fascination with Samantha and confronts The Geek about his feelings, creating a rather unlikely duo. The Geek agrees to end his pursuits of Samantha and accepts Jake’s attractive, but socially inept girlfriend as an exchange. After all the shenanigans and sexual proclivity of a high school comedy, Samantha finally meets up with Jake and they are shown celebrating her birthday atop a coffee table in one of cinema’s most iconic moments. All is happy, but not all is without problems.
John Hughes may be known for making brilliant films, yet his films suffer from a heavy amount of ethnocentricity, particularly in regards to white male ideology. The film from its imagery to its dialogue seeps white middle class America. It is difficult to spot any character who is not white, a problem that reemerges in The Breakfast Club. This is of course excluding the stereotyped character of Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) whose exaggerated antics and misunderstanding of English is more of a hindrance to Asian-American actors than an advance. Similarly, the film seems to applaud the objectification of females. Jake and The Geek are obviously pursuing sexual conquest, the former for a new fling and the later for social advancement. While Jake and Samantha are shown in a closing, moment of intimacy little is noted of Jake’s fidelity, particularly given his willingness to drop his previous girlfriend instantaneously, despite her rather outlandish antics. The Geek is even more problematic given that his desire for acceptance leads him to lie about sleeping with Samantha, using her underwear as proof, making the importance of the act contingent on an object. Furthermore, while it is never blatantly stated it is assumed that The Geek takes advantage of Jake’s ex when she is drunkenly incapacitated, which is tantamount to date rape. Tragically, Samantha, the character capable of transcending this act, is equally inclined to these acts of objectification, gazing at Jake’s girlfriend in adoration desiring, not her personality, but instead her body. This desirous gaze dually objectifies the girl, as well as Samantha. The film lacks a voice of reprimand, a problem that arguably plagues the other works of Hughes.
So I know my critique makes the film seem unviewable, but to be honest it is still a good movie, it is just problematic. It is a classic and a must see eighties film. It is not superior to The Breakfast Club, but is still great and any film buff should own a copy.