Sixteen Candles

Sixteen Candles

Of the genres popular when the 80s arrived, teen movies ranked towards the bottom of the list. Sure, there was an occasional gem in the crowd (My Bodyguard is an excellent example), but these rare treats were overshadowed by mostly crude offerings. When 1983 rolled around, a director named John Hughes raised the bar considerably, offering a film called Sixteen Candles that would define him as the genre’s new master.

It’s Samantha Baker’s sixteenth birthday and what should be a joyous occasion is anything but. Not only has her family failed to remember this important milestone – a result of the chaos surrounding sister Ginny’s upcoming wedding – but her romantic life leaves much to be desired.

Sure, she has boys interested in her. There is Ted, the resident high school geek, and the infamous Long Duk Dong, a visiting foreign exchange student (staying with her grandparents, no less) with an inferno of raging hormones contained within. But both of these prospects pale in comparison to the true love of her life, high school hunk extraordinaire, Jake Ryan.

The problem is Jake is already taken by reigning prom queen, Caroline, and she has no intention of letting go of the leash. Samantha also has a little problem with that sex quiz that she took – the one where she stated that she was a virgin, saving herself for Jake – a quiz that seems to have turned up missing.

The upcoming evening doesn’t look to be any better for poor Samantha. It’s the night of the big dance and the grandparents insist that she accompany Long Duk. When she arrives, matters are complicated quickly as she realized that hunky Ryan might actually be interested in her, as long as she can fend off nerdy Ted, who is trying desperately to shack up with her so he can win a bet with his friends. Meanwhile, Long Duk has discovered the time honored American teen tradition of partying with reckless abandon. All of these events lead up to a crazy party over at Jake’s, with unforeseen consequences in store for all involved.

Perhaps the secret of John Hughes success with movies like Sixteen Candles was his uncanny ability to capture the emotions and behavior of teens in a way that few could. His films were not only believable, but offered a poignant look at the trials and tribulations of being a teen that hit home with millions of fans. Hughes rarely missed anything, from the sibling rivalry (and aggression) to the dysfunctional family unit as a whole, and throughout it all, managed to inject significant amounts of humor that never seems contrived or over-the-top (sadly, we lost John Hughes in 2009).

Sixteen Candles also merged an entity called the “Brat Pack” with well established stars, blending young and old for maximum effectiveness. John Cusack and his sister Joan, along with Jamie Gertz, provided the experienced thespian skills while newcomers Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall offered fresh perspectives that endeared them to their future fan base. But perhaps there was no finer casting than Gedde Watanabe as the lovable Long Duk Dong, who stole every scene in which he appeared.

While Sixteen Candles didn’t exactly break any box-office records, over the years it has become an endearing classic to many. With a combination of perpetually quoted dialog paired with some truly hilarious scenes, it garnered the attention that John Hughes deserved as a true craftsman of the genre. Its success led to such classic teen films as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. More importantly, it earned some respect for a genre of film that many had written off as crude and sophomoric – words that simply do not describe Sixteen Candles.

If you are a fan of this endearing film, we would love to hear your thoughts and recollections of Sixteen Candles in our comments section below.

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