Sunday, May 4, 2014

1984 Turns 30! A Retrospective: Sixteen Candles (John Hughes)

As I'll be turning 30 this October, I decided (perhaps against my better judgement) to try something a bit ambitious (given my work ethic... or lack there of!)... yup, you've guessed it... I'm going to try and watch and review as many films as I possibly can from 1984. And furthermore, I'm going to try and time my posts to coincide with the theatrical release dates of said films. Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "Hold on a minute Simon, it's May already and you're just starting this now?!?"... and yes, you're right... but worry not, I'll be attempting (that being the operative word) to catch up with some of the ones I've missed as the year progresses. So then, on to the first film, which, as I'm sure you've gathered by now, was released a whole 30 years ago today...

Given the context, it seems appropriate that the movie that's kicking off these birthday blogging shenanigans should be one set mostly on a birthday... and furthermore, it seems highly apt that this first film of the retrospective should also be a director's debut feature. 

Prior to writing and directing Sixteen Candles, John Hughes had written for National Lampoon, which would lead to him scripting a couple of pictures for them; the disastrously received Class Reunion (which is apparently a slasher spoof) and National Lampoon's Vacation, which was a big hit. The success of both the latter and another Hughes written film, Mr. Mom, led to a three picture deal with Universal, of which Sixteen Candles was the first. 

Samantha Baker (played by Hughes' muse Molly Ringwald) is having the sixteenth birthday from hell... her sister is getting married tomorrow, meaning her family have completely forgotten about her own big day... but this is only the start of her misfortunes. She manages to lose a rather personal piece of paper where she not only mentions the name of the guy she has the hots for (Jake Ryan, played by Michael Schoeffling), but also reveals that she's a virgin and is saving herself for him. And unbeknownst to her, said high school hunk ends up picking up this very piece of paper! But wait, that's not all! Sam has effectively been evicted from her room due to her grandparents staying over for the aforementioned wedding and they've also brought with them a wacky foreign exchange student, called Long Duk Dong (played by Gedde Watanabe)... yup, you heard that one right. And finally, despite being a near non-entity to Jake (though he soon starts showing signs of interest), Sam does have an eager (make that over-eager) admirer... she's perpetually pestered by the almost preternaturally confident Ted, aka Farmer Ted, aka The Geek (played by another Hughes regular Anthony Michael Hall). Can the day possibly get any worse?

No points for guessing how this one turns out folks! Admittedly, one could outline the plot on the back of a postage stamp, but this is really besides the point. And in lesser hands, this could have become something of a soppy cringe-fest, but thanks to Hughes' superlative ear for dialogue and his consistently three-dimensional characterisations (ably assisted by his excellent ensemble of actors), it all feels very true to life. I suppose one could accuse the film of being a bit contrived on a narrative level... but again, this is a movie and such criticisms would be missing the point entirely; the fairy tale ending speaking very much to the youthful optimism the movie is infused with. And this being a John Hughes film, it manages to be sentimental without seeming mawkish or saccharine... probably because it's both very sharp and very funny... I've only seen this once, but already there are lines of dialogue etched into my brain for eternity.

While still feeling very fresh a whole three decades after its release, Sixteen Candles also functions as a delightful time capsule, with both its mid-80s fashions and a packed soundtrack (featuring enough material to easily fill a double album) featuring the likes of The Stray Cats (who perform the title song), AC/DC, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, Oingo Boingo, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Vapors, Billy Idol, David Bowie and many more.

The film has drawn criticism because of the Long Duk Dong character and admittedly they'd probably never even attempt such a comic stereotype today, let alone get away with it. But as the movie is generally so good-natured, this is something even a fairly "PC" modern audience will likely forget about pretty quickly... maybe because said character proves to be so damn funny at times... despite and perhaps because of his broad characterisation.

Although I'd heard very good things about it, I really wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did, mistakenly assuming I wasn't in the "target demographic", so to speak. But as Hughes fans will well know, this really was an erroneous assumption on my part, as his films have something for pretty much everyone... and practically every character is so well rounded that every viewer will find someone to relate to... in fact, the whole bunch are so sympathetic and well-observed that you'll probably find yourself relating to all of them, even the ones vastly different from one's self.

So, if you've put off watching Sixteen Candles, or have just never gotten round to it, then today, being its 30th birthday, is perhaps to ideal opportunity to give it a go! Oh, and finally, keep an eye out for a young John Cusack and his sister Joan, who both appear in supporting roles. 


  1. Oh sexy girlfriend! Excellent work sir, I'm glad you got around to this. Class Reunion is a guilty pleasure of mine. Possibly the first 'slasher' I ever saw?

  2. Cheers! I'm glad I got round to seeing it too... John Hughes (and a few others... Jacques Tati, I'm looking at you!) keeps the cynic in me in his proper place so it's always good to check out one of his movies every few months or so... and I'm very curious about Class Reunion, especially with it being scripted by him.