On Sixteen Candles

I never watched Sixteen Candles before, but when I did recently, it felt like having my ear a quarter of an inch away from a chalk board as someone scratches it slowly. It’s just so appalling! The film is written and directed by John Hughes, featuring Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. According to the New York Post‘s article, “‘Sixteen Candles’ is racist and sexist — and needs to be retired“:

A few months back, my colleague Lou Lumenick proposed that “Gone With the Wind”go the way of the Confederate flag. It’s with a heavy heart that I wonder whether we should retire “Sixteen Candles,” since it seems to celebrate both racism and date rape.

Reviewing the instantly forgettable “Jem and the Holograms” this fall reminded me of my lifelong love of 1980s movie queen Molly Ringwald, who played Jem’s mom. “Sixteen Candles” (1984), Ringwald’s first movie with director John Hughes, was one of my favorites. But rewatching it now, I felt about as repulsed as Ringwald’s character Samantha did when she first saw the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall):

The racism and sexism in Hughes’ movie is so over the top, I have to hope any teens watching it today would view it as a shocking, old-timey artifact. Perhaps most glaringly, there’s Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), the Chinese foreign exchange student whose every mention is accompanied by the sound of a gong.

Besides the nonstop “Chinaman” jokes, there’s also this offhanded exchange between Samantha and her friend Randy (Liane Curtis) about finding the perfect boy.

Samantha: “You do it on a cloud without getting pregnant or herpes.”
Randy: “I don’t need the cloud. Just a pink Trans Am and the guy.”
Samantha: “A black one.”
Randy: “A black guy??”
Samantha: “A black Trans Am. A pink guy!”

Even more pervasive than the racism, if that’s possible, is the sexism. In 2015, this movie plays out like Date Rape 101 — and both of its male leads, supposedly the heroes, are actually terrible, terrible people.

Let’s review: Jake (Michael Schoeffling) — the supposed Perfect Guy — has a prom-queen girlfriend named Caroline (Haviland Morris), who gets so drunk at his party that she passes out. “I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to,” says Mr. Right. The Geek’s response: “What are you waiting for?”

Jake proceeds to put his girlfriend in the car with the Geek, telling him to drive her home and “have fun.”

The Geek gets the girl even drunker, takes her to his friends’ house and takes pictures of himself with her.

The Geek and Caroline wake up in the car the next morning and have the following conversation.

Geek: “Did we, uh . . .”
Caroline: “Yeah. I’m pretty sure.”
Geek: “Um, do you know . . . um, did I enjoy it? Am I nuts? Of course I enjoyed it. What I meant was, uh . . . did you?”
Caroline: “You know, I have this weird feeling I did.”

Game over, John Hughes. I’ll forgive you the wrongheaded ending of “Pretty in Pink” — obviously, our heroine should have picked Duckie — and the misguided makeover of Ally Sheedy’s goth in “The Breakfast Club.” But “Sixteen Candles” should now be filed under Cautionary Tales of ’80s Cinema: Gather round, kiddies, and check out how rape and racism used to be hilarious punch lines.

Additionally, according to BitchFlicks‘ article, “‘Sixteen Candles,’ Rape Culture, and the Anti-Woman Politics of 2013“:

Holy fuck this movie. I started watching it like OH YEAH MY CHILDHOOD MOLLY RINGWALD ADOLESCENCE IS SO HARD and after two scenes, I put that shit on pause like, WHEN DID SOMEONE WRITE ALL THESE RACIST HOMOPHOBIC SEXIST ABLEIST RAPEY PARTS THAT WEREN’T HERE BEFORE I WOULD’VE REMEMBERED THEM.

Nostalgia is a sneaky bitch.

I wanted to write about all the wonderful things I thought I remembered aboutSixteen Candles: a sympathetic and complex female protagonist, the awkwardness of adolescence, the embarrassing interactions with parents and grandparents who JUST DON’T GET IT, crushing hard on older boys—and yes, all that stuff is still there. And of course, there’s that absolutely fantastic final wedding scene in which a woman consents to marry a dude while under the influence of a fuckload of muscle relaxers. OH WAIT WHUT.

Turns out, that shit ain’t so funny once feminism becomes a thing in your life.
The kind of adorable premise of Sixteen Candles is that Molly Ringwald (Samantha Baker) wakes up one morning as a sixteen-year-old woman who still hasn’t yet grown the breasts she wants. Her family, however, forgets her birthday because of the chaos surrounding her older sister Ginny’s upcoming wedding; relatives drive into town, future in-laws set up dinner dates, and poor Samantha gets the cold shoulder. It reminded me of the time my parents handed me an unwrapped Stephen King novel on my sixteenth birthday like a couple of emotionally neglectful and shitty assholes, but, you know, at least they REMEMBERED it.

Anyway, she rides the bus to school (with all the LOSERS), and in her Independent Study “class” the hot senior she likes, Jake Ryan, intercepts a note meant for her friend Randy. And—wouldn’t you know it—the note says, I WOULD TOTALLY DO IT WITH JAKE RYAN BUT HE DOESN’T KNOW I’M ALIVE. Well he sure as fuck knows NOW, Samantha.

So, these are the important things in Sixteen Candles: Samantha’s family forgets her birthday; she’s in love with a hot senior who’s dating Caroline (the most popular girl in school); and there’s a big ol’ geek (Farmer Ted) from Sam’s daily bus rides who won’t stop stalking her. Oh, and Long Duk Dong exists [insert racist gong sound here]. Seriously, every time Long Duk Dong appears on screen, a fucking GONG GOES OFF on the soundtrack. I suppose that lines up quite nicely with the scene where he falls out of a tree yelling, “BONSAI.”

Since the entire movie is like a machine gun firing of RACIST HOMOPHOBIC SEXIST ABLEIST RAPEY parts, the only way I know how to effectively talk about it is to look at the very problematic screenplay. So, fasten your seatbelts and heed your trigger warnings.

The 80s were quite possibly a nightmare.

The first few scenes do a decent job of showing the forgotten-birthday slash upcoming-wedding fiasco occurring in the Baker household. Sam stands in front of her bedroom mirror before school, analyzing her brand new sixteen-year-old self and says, “You need four inches of bod and a great birthday.” I can get behind that idea; growing up comes with all kinds of stresses and confusion, especially for women in high school who’ve begun to feel even more insecure about their bodies (having had sufficient time to fully absorb the toxic beauty culture).

While Samantha laments the lack of changes in her physical appearance, her little brother Mike pretends to almost-punch their younger sister. When he gets in trouble for it, he says, “Dad, I didn’t hit her. I’d like to very much and probably will later, but give me a break. You know my method. I don’t hit her when you’re just down the hall.” It’s easy to laugh this off—I chuckled when I first heard it. But after five seconds of thinking about my reaction, I realized my brain gave Mike a pass because of that whole “boys will be boys” thing, and then I got pissed at myself.

The problem with eye-rolling away the “harmless” offenses of young boys is that it gives boys (and later, men) a license to act like fuckers with no actual repercussions. The “boys will be boys” mantra is one of the most insidious manifestations of rape culture because it conditions both boys and girls at a young age to believe boys just can’t help themselves; violence in boys is inherent and not worth trying to control. And people today—including political “leaders”—often use that excuse to justify the violent actions of men toward women.

Unfortunately, Sixteen Candles continues to reinforce this idea throughout the film.

The Geek, aka Farmer Ted—a freshman who’s obsessed with Samantha—represents this more than any other character. The film presents his stalking behavior as endearing, which means that all his interactions with Samantha (and with the popular kids at school) end with a silent, “Poor guy!” exclamation. Things just really aren’t going his way! And look how hard he’s trying! (Poor guy.) He first appears on the bus home from school and sits next to Samantha, even though she makes it quite clear—with a bunch of comments about getting dudes to kick his ass who “lust wimp blood”—that she wants him to leave her alone. Then this interaction takes place:

Ted: You know, I’m getting input here that I’m reading as relatively hostile.

Samantha: Go to hell.

Ted: Come on, what’s the problem here? I’m a boy, you’re a girl. Is there anything wrong with me trying to put together some kind of relationship between us?

[The bus stops.]

Ted: Look, I know you have to go. Just answer one question.

Samantha: Yes, you’re a total fag.

Ted: That’s not the question … Am I turning you on?

[Samantha rolls her eyes and exits the bus.]

POOR GUY! Also homophobia. Like, all over the place in this movie. The words “fag” and “faggot” flood the script and always refer to men who lack conventional masculine traits or who haven’t yet “bagged a babe.” And the emphasis on “Man-Up Already!” puts women in harm’s way more than once.

The most terrifying instance of this happens toward the end of the film when Ted ends up at Jake’s party after the school homecoming dance, and the two of them bond by objectifying women together (and subsequently creating a nice little movie template to last for generations). The atrocities involve a very drunk, passed-out Caroline (which reminded me so much of what happened in Steubenville that I had to turn off the movie for a while and regroup) and a pair of Samantha’s underwear.

This is how we get to that point: After Jake snags Samantha’s unintentional declaration of love during Independent Study, he becomes interested in her. He tells a jock friend of his (while they do chin-ups together in gym class), “It’s kinda cool, the way she’s always looking at me.” His friend responds—amid all that hot testosterone—that “maybe she’s retarded.” (This statement sounds even worse within the context of a film that includes a possibly disabled character, played by Joan Cusack, who lacks mobility and “hilariously” spends five minutes trying to drink from a water fountain. Her role exists as nothing more than a punch line; she literally says nothing.)

Jake’s girlfriend, Caroline, picks up on his waning interest in her and says to him at the school dance, “You’ve been acting weird all night. Are you screwing around?”He immediately gaslights her with, “Me? Are you crazy?” to which she responds, “I don’t know, Jake. I’m getting strange signals.” Yup, Caroline—IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD NOT REALLY.

Meanwhile, in an abandoned car somewhere on school premises (perhaps a shop lab/classroom), Samantha sits alone, lamenting Jake’s probable hatred of her after their interaction in the gym where he said, “Hi!” and she freaked out and ran away. Farmer Ted stalk-finds her and climbs into the passenger seat. Some words happen, blah blah blah, and a potentially interesting commentary on the culture of masculinity gets undercut by Ted asking Samantha (who Ted referred to lovingly as “fully-aged sophomore meat” to his dude-bros earlier in the film) if he can borrow her underwear to use as proof that they banged. Of course she gives her underwear to him because.

Cut to Jake’s after-party: everyone is finally gone; his house is a mess; Caroline is passed out drunk as fuck in his bedroom; and he finds Ted trapped inside a glass coffee table (a product of bullying). Then, at last, after Jake confesses to Ted that he thinks Samantha hates him (because she ran away from him in the gym), we’re treated to a true Male Bonding Moment:

Ted: You see, [girls] know guys are, like, in perpetual heat, right? They know this shit. And they enjoy pumping us up. It’s pure power politics, I’m telling you … You know how many times a week I go without lunch because some bitch borrows my lunch money? Any halfway decent girl can rob me blind because I’m too torqued up to say no.

Jake: 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?

C’MON JAKE WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO RAPE YOUR GIRLFRIEND. Or wait, no, maybe let’s let Ted rape her?

Jake: I’ll make a deal with you. Let me keep these [Samantha’s underwear, duh]. I’ll let you take Caroline home … She’s so blitzed she won’t know the difference.

And then Ted throws a passed-out Caroline over his shoulder and puts her in the passenger seat of a convertible. This scene took me immediately back to the horrific images of two men carrying around a drunk woman in Steubenville who they later raped—and were convicted of raping (thanks largely to social media). This scene, undoubtedly “funny” in the 80s and certainly still funny to people who like to claim this shit is harmless, helped lay the groundwork for Steubenville, and for Cleveland, and for Richmond, where as many as 20 witnesses watched men beat and gang rape a woman for over two hours without reporting it. On their high school campus. During their homecoming dance.

People who claim to believe films and TV and pop culture moments like this are somehow disconnected from perpetuating rape need to take a step back and really think about the message this sends. I refuse to accept that a person could watch this scene from an iconic John Hughes film—where, after a party, a drunk woman is literally passed around by two men and photographed—and not see the connection between the Steubenville rape—where, after a party, a woman was literally passed around by two men and photographed.

And it only gets worse. Caroline wakes up out of nowhere and puts a birth control pill in Ted’s mouth. Once he realizes what he’s swallowed, he says, “You have any idea what that’ll do to a guy my age?” Caroline responds, “I know exactly what it’ll do to a girl my age. It makes it okay to be really super careless!”
It makes it okay to be really super careless. 
IT MAKES IT OKAY TO BE REALLY SUPER CARELESS.
So I guess the current anti-choice, anti-contraception, anti-woman Republicans found a John Hughes screenplay from 30 years ago and decided to use this cautionary tale as their entire fucking platform. See what happens when women have access to birth control? It makes it okay to be really super careless! And get drunk! And allow dudes to rape them!
Of course, believing that Caroline is raped in Sixteen Candles requires believing that a woman can’t consent to sex when she’s too “blitzed to know the difference” between her actual boyfriend and a random freshman geek. I mean, there’sforcible rape, and there’s not-really rape, right? And this obviously isn’t REAL rape since Ted and Caroline actually have THIS FUCKING CONVERSATION when they wake up in a church parking lot the next morning:

Ted: Did we, uh …

Caroline: Yeah. I’m pretty sure.

Ted: Of course I enjoyed it … uh … did you?

Caroline: Hmmm. You know, I have this weird feeling I did … You were pretty crazy … you know what I like best? Waking up in your arms.

Fuck you, John Hughes.

And so many more problems exist in this film that I can’t fully get into in the space of one already long review, but the fact that Ginny (Sam’s sister) starts her period and therefore needs to take FOUR muscle relaxers to dull the pain also illustrates major problems with consent; her father at one point appears to pick her up anddrag her down the aisle on her wedding day. (And, congratulations for understanding, John Hughes, that when women bleed every month, it requires a borderline drug overdose to contain the horror.)

The racism, too, blows my mind. Long Duk Dong, a foreign exchange student living with Samantha’s grandparents, speaks in played-for-laughs broken English during the following monologue over dinner: “Very clever dinner. Appetizing food fit neatly into interesting round pie … I love, uh, visiting with Grandma and Grandpa … and writing letters to parents … and pushing lawn-mowing machine … so Grandpa’s hyena don’t get disturbed,” accompanied by such sentences as, “The Donger need food.” (I also love it, not really, when Samantha’s best friend Randy mishears Sam and thinks she’s interested in a Black guy. “A BLACK guy?!?!” Randy exclaims … then sighs with relief once she realizes the misunderstanding.)

And I haven’t even touched on the problematic issues with class happening inSixteen Candles. (Hughes does class relations a tiny bit better in Pretty in Pink.)
Basically, it freaks me out—as it should—when I watch movies or television shows from 30 years ago and see how closely the politics resemble today’s anti-woman agenda. Phrases like “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape” shouldn’t exist in 2013. In 2013, politicians like Wendy Davis shouldn’t have to stand up and speak for 13 hours—with no food, water, or restroom breaks—in order to stop a bill from passing in Texas that would virtually shut down access to safe and legal abortions in the entire state. Women should be able to walk down the street for contraception in 2013, whether it’s for condoms or for the morning after pill. The US political landscape in 2013 should NOT include talking points lifted directly from a 1984 film about teenagers.
I know John Hughes is a national fucking treasure, but please tell me our government officials aren’t using his screenplays as legislative blueprints for the future of American politics.

According to VH1‘s article, “16 Things Millennials Don’t Understand About Sixteen Candles“:

When Sixteen Candles hit theaters in 1984, leads Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall were vaguely familiar teen actors, but hardly movie stars, and National Lampoon writer-turned-filmmaker John Hughes was a complete unknown.

By the time their collective follow-up, The Breakfast Club, opened less than a year later, all three had become cinematic touchstones for an entire generation.

Amidst the mid-’80s sea of hard raunch teen sex comedies, writer-director John Hughes created something new in Samantha Baker, Sixteen Candles’ main character played, luminously and immortally, by Molly Ringwald.

Samantha is a recognizably human heroine adrift in the movie’s farce of wacky schemes and zany slapstick. The same goes for Anthony Michael Hall as Farmer Ted, the first movie nerd to exist as more than the butt of jokes (although there’s no dearth of those in Sixteen Candles, to be sure).

The original wave of teenagers who saw Sixteen Candles embraced it as their own (they became Generation X, although nobody outside of Billy Idol’s original bandwas using that term). Since then, the film’s hilarious gags and, more importantly, its heart have translated repeatedly to new audiences who consistently fall in love with it.

That doesn’t mean everything about Sixteen Candles continues to carry over flawlessly, though.

Millennials, in particular, may find elements of Sixteen Candles perplexing, baffling, and—of course—“offensive.”

Here now, for the first generation most likely to watch Sixteen Candles on their cell phones, is our guide to aspects of the movie that may get you Tweeting whatever emojis have presently replaced “WTF?”

1. Before Facebook notifications, people could (and did) forget your birthday.

Once upon a time, longer and longer ago at this point, we didn’t all know each other’s business every minute of every day, every day of every week, and every everything of every everything else.

Sixteen Candles exists in this era and that place. It’s a trip.

2. Nerds were NOT cool.

Farmer Ted is not just uncool in Sixteen Candles, his character is alternately referred to as simply “The Geek”—and that was as nasty an insult as imaginable back in 1984 (Sixteen Candles beat the redemptive Revenge of the Nerds to theaters by several months; note that it pointedly wasn’t called “Revenge of the Geeks”).

Right or wrong, nerds were social pariahs and Sixteen Candlesrecognizes them as such.

The notion that science and/or science fiction—along with comic books, role-playing games, superhero stuff, and Star Wars—would in any way not get up wedgied, swirlied, and stuffed inside lockers was unimaginable. The idea of it ever being “cool,” let alone the defining component of all-around popular culture, could only have been described as insane.

Now we’re all living in The Big Bang Theory and CEOs decorate their penthouse offices with Ghostbusters Legos. What a world.

3. It was Anthony Michael Hall, in fact, who made nerds cool.

While Revenge of the Nerds, as mentioned, did much to alter the status of the dork set, Anthony Michael Hall actually set the change in motion first as Farmer Ted inSixteen Candles and then as Brian Johnson in The Breakfast Club.

John Hughes himself explained Anthony Michael Hall’s brilliance thusly: “Every single kid who came in to read for the part did the whole, stereotyped high school nerd thing. You know— thick glasses, ball point pens in the pocket, white socks. But when Michael came in he played it straight, like a real human being. I knew right at that moment that I’d found my Geek.”

4. Passing notes in class was the original “texting.”

Indeed, sometimes it was even the original “sexting.” Much of Sam’s trouble—and, ultimately, her triumph—stems from a “Sex Quiz” that she fills out and attempts to slip to a friend in class. Alas, dreamboat Jake (Michael Schoeffler) intercepts the paperwork, and their rocky road to romance is afoot.

Today, teenagers text faster than they could possibly scribble anything on a page, so the modern pitfall would be sending a digital message to the wrong recipient who can then, with one click, literally alert the whole world.

“Destroying your life,” teen-style, was both easier and harder back in the ’80s.

5. Interracial dating was still unusual enough that it was called “interracial dating” (and not just, like it is now, “dating”).

When discussing Sam’s dream Sweet 16 gifts, Randy (Liane Curtis) proposes a gorgeous guy with a pink Trans Am.

“A black one,” Sam says.

Black guy?!” Randy gasps

“No!” Sam answers with a laugh. “A black Trans Am; a pink guy!”

Circa 1984, white girls from upscale Chicago suburbs tended to not be romantically involved with people of other races. They may have even found the notion, frankly, giggle-worthy.

That’s just John Hughes calling ’em like he saw ’em.

6. Racial, ethnic, and cultural differences made people laugh—and not (necessarily) out of “hate.”

Gedde Watanabe as crackpot Asian exchange student Long Duk Dong is simply going to send even the hardest-hearted Millennial into spasms of hurt and outrage (by proxy, of course).

Yes, the character is a sex-crazed cartoon who speaks like an Asian stereotype. No, he would not “fly” today. And, yes, exaggerations of perceived racial, ethnic, and cultural traits were commonplace in American entertainment from before cinema even began, with each new succession of immigrants being satirized and lampooned—until they spoofed the next batch off the boat.

Obviously, society’s take on this practice has soured. Some have argued, though, that laughter over such differences used to perhaps help recognize the foibles and frailties that we all share in common.

Either way, Long Duk Dong is Long Duk Dong—as “problematic” as he Watanabe.

7. Everybody’s grandparents really did look like cartoon “old people.”

Often today, you’ll hear that sixty or even seventy is “the new forty.” Back in the ’80s, it was the exact opposite.

30 counted as “middle age” (imagine that, ye who are now in your late 20s!). People married and had kids younger, so often by 50 their kids had had kids—and the years wore on them harder.

Today’s elders benefit from healthier diets, more effective exercise, easy access to hip fashions, and the fact that everyone tends to live longer, and everyone extends their “youth” phases as far into “maturity” as is conceivable.

So when Sam’s grandparents come off as hyperbolic caricatures of the ancient, rest assured, “old” start way earlier back then—and everyone really looked the part.

8. Prior to camera phones, a premium existed on physical evidence.

“Pics or it didn’t happen” is a common Internet demand when someone makes an outrageous and/or impressive claim in public.

Sixteen Candles came out at a time when cameras were individual machines that required film and flashbulbs, after which the photos had to be chemically developed.

As a result, when Farmer Ted wants to “prove” that he acquired Sam’s undies, he charges a buck a head to ogle the actual garment in the boys’ bathroom. A mass gathering of awestruck dorks subsequently assembles.

9. All underpants were “granny panties”—or even lamer.

On the topic of that apparel: Sam’s polka-dot underwear is typical of the best of what young ladies had available in mid-’80s intimate apparel.

Bearing this in mind, the burbling virgins who moan at the sight of Farmer Ted exhibiting Sam’s skivvies had not so much as even caught a stitch of actual female underwear. Low-rise jeans and thong straps lay way in the future.

10. No, ’80s audiences did not find date rape “funny” or “cool.”

Much discomfort presently surrounds a (no pun intended) climactic point of Sixteen Candles in which hunky Jake essentially “gives” his passed out, prom-queen-type girlfriend Caroline (Havilland Morris) to Farmer Ted to drive home and do with her unconscious body what he will.

It’s a gross moment that neither can nor should be shrugged off as “just how things were back then.”

However, it’s important to note that Farmer Ted does not, in fact, take advantage of the impaired and inebriated Caroline. When she wakes up, she just thinks they both got loaded and got it on and had a great time.

11. Yes, ’80s audiences did think underage drinking was funny and cool.

Everyone who is getting trashed at the party at Jake’s house (and then, in turn, trashing Jake’s house) is under the legal drinking age. Sixteen Candles presents this bacchanal as not just as a fact of teenage life but as big, crazy, fun that, if you’re not in high school yet, is really a treat to which you can and should excitedly look forward.

Of course, high school students drank and took drugs back then, and they still do now. The difference these days is that media coverage and overall heightened awareness of the consequences of such behavior, much of it fatal and otherwise tragic, has dimmed this topic as one that can or should be presented lightly.

Still, there was nothing like an ’80s keg party when somebody’s parents went out of town. Now don’t drink and Instagram, kids.

12. Characters could drop F-Bombs (both kinds) in PG-rated movies.

Early on, Sixteen Candles announces that it’s going to be a different kind of teen movie, and that Molly Ringwald’s Samantha Baker is going to be a different kind of teen movie heroine, when, upon realizing the central element of the plot, she openly and out loud declares, “I can’t believe this! They f-cking forgot my birthday!”

Later on, casual usage of an “f”-fronted slur against homosexual men is used as a synonym for “not cool.” Millennials are sure to be quick to point out that that practice, in fact, is what’s not cool (and they are not wrong).

13. Characters could be naked in PG-rated movies.

Sixteen Candles did not exist in a vacuum. 1984 was still the fledgling days of home video, so bare bodies on the big screen still sold movie tickets. In fact, nudity proved so common at the time that it didn’t even warrant an R-rating (another ’84 PG release, Sheena with Tanya Roberts, practically qualifies as a skin flick).

The box office allure of undraped anatomies, then, explains the unflinching shower-room interlude during which Molly Ringwald and Liane Curtis jealously eyeball Havilland Morris—although the actual nay-nay bits belong to a body double.

14. Sixteen Candles actually did shock on one front: by having teens portray teens.

Beginning in the 1950s, when our modern notions of the “teenager” came to be, Hollywood has cast actors in their 20s and even 30s as high school students and, for decades, audiences accepted it.

It’s true even in the best-loved coming-of-age films, from American Graffiti to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and it’s so ridiculous in Grease that it becomes charming (consider, for instance, that Rizzo, portrayed by 34-year-old Stockard Channing, is supposed to be 17).

Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall were both 15-years-old while shootingSixteen Candles. The other kids in the cast were just that, too: kids. This jolt of reality proved revolutionary.

15. Justin Henry, who plays Sam’s kid brother Mike, did freak people out a bit.

In 1979, adorable, eight-year-old blonde moppet Justin Henry won audiences’ hearts and earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination via the acclaimed divorce drama, Kramer vs. Kramer. He played the sweet, precocious son at the heart of a custody battle between Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, and seemed destined to grow into long-term stardom.

When Sixteen Candles viewers first put together that Samantha’s porky, mean-mouthed, proto-Eric-Cartman brother was, in fact, Justin Henry, cries rang out everywhere, “That’s the kid from Kramer vs. Kramer?! Yowza!”

A oddly similar minor mass wig-out occurred seven years later when audiences atEdward Scissorhands took notice of that film’s nasty, beefy bully and reacted: “That’s Anthony Michael Hall?! Yowza!”

16. Sixteen Candles reinvented teen entertainment, which reinvented teens, and it continues to exert a huge influence even now.

Sixteen Candles put a sweet and decidedly female-friendly spin on the 1980s’ teen sex comedy movie craze. Previously, the field was all hard raunch (Porky’s, The Last American Virgin). Occasional exceptions added deeper dimensions (Risky Business,Fast Times) but those, too, were made primarily for guys.

Sixteen Candles created from scratch a new frank, funny, relatable format for girls that everyone could identify with, laugh along to, and enjoy—regardless of age, gender, race, class, orientation, or [go ahead, Millennials, rattle off the rest].

As such, the positively prolific impact of this film extends into teen culture today—and tomorrow.

Finally, according to Mental Floss‘ article, “16 Illuminating Facts About ‘Sixteen Candles’“:

Sixteen Candles was the first in John Hughes’ series of iconic 1980s teen movies which depicted the unfairness of having to go through puberty while attempting to graduate high school with a bunch of other people experiencing the same exact thing. Hughes may have been a couple of decades past his high school years when he wrote the movie, but he managed to accurately capture the teen experience. Here are 16 things you might not know about the film, which was released 32 years ago today—making it officially twice as old as its protagonist.

1. HUGHES WAS INSPIRED BY MOLLY RINGWALD BEFORE HE EVEN MET HER.

After writing the screenplays for Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’ agents at ICM gave him a stack of photos of young actors. “I was in that stack,” Ringwald recalled toEntertainment Weekly in January. ”He flipped through and saw one he liked and put it on his bulletin board.” Hughes, who was known for writing while chain-smoking and blaring music, wrote the Sixteen Candles script over a single Fourth of July weekend.

2. VIGGO MORTENSEN ALMOST GOT THE ROLE OF JAKE RYAN.

Mortensen and Ringwald kissed during the audition, which made the future The Lord of the Rings star Ringwald’s pick to play her love interest. “He made me weak in the knees,” she toldAccess Hollywood. “He really did.” When the two co-starred in the movie Fresh Horses, Mortensen told Ringwald that he always thought he didn’t get the job because of his kissing.

3. JAKE RYAN WAS 23 YEARS OLD.

Michael Schoeffling, who beat Mortensen out for the part of Jake, was 23 years old during filming, unlike Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, who were both 15. Though Sixteen Candlesmade him one of Hollywood’s most in-demand young stars, Schoeffling left the business completely following 1991’s Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. By most accounts, he moved to Virginia with his wife and kids, where he works as a carpenter. Haviland Morris, who played Jake’s girlfriend Caroline, also left the business—sort of. Though she does still act on occasion, she works as a real estate agent in New York City.

4. HUGHES WROTE FARMER TED SPECIFICALLY FOR ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL.

Based on his performance in Vacation, Hughes felt that Hall would be perfect for “The Geek/Farmer Ted” character, so he wrote the role specifically for the young actor.

5. SKOKIE, ILLINOIS WASN’T FUN FOR RINGWALD AND HALL.

The two underage thespians had nothing to do when filming wrapped on weekends and some of their fellow castmates abandoned them to go to bars. At their Skokie hotel however, the twocrashed a Bat Mitzvah to help pass the time.

6. LONG DUK DONG WAS PLAYED BY A 28-YEAR-OLD UTAH-BORN ACTOR WHO ONLY SPOKE ENGLISH.

Gedde Watanabe’s Japanese-American parents settled in Ogden, Utah. Watanabe went into his Long Duk Dong audition in character, borrowing the thick accent of his Korean friend.Watanabe eventually admitted to Hughes at the table read that the accent wasn’t real. While he was scared that he would be fired for the deception, Hughes simply laughed.

7. THE GONG NOISE WAS NOT IN THE SCRIPT.

Watanabe claimed that the sound effect was added in post-production, and quipped that“somebody must’ve had a few beers.” He was also surprised that his performance would be deemed racist by several Asian-American groups. “It took me a while to understand that,” he told NPR. “In fact, I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I was accosted a couple of times by a couple of women who were just really irate and angry. They asked, ‘How could you do a role like that?’ But it’s funny, too, because at the same time I laugh at the character. It’s an odd animal.”

8. JOHN AND JOAN CUSACK’S ROLES WERE ESSENTIALLY CONSOLATION PRIZES.

The Cusacks were initially prominently cast in The Breakfast Club, with John cast as Bender (eventually played by Judd Nelson) and Joan set to play Allison (Ally Sheedy.) But Universal thought Hughes’ other finished screenplay, Sixteen Candles, was more commercial, and therefore should be made first. With John as Farmer Ted’s buddy Bryce and Joan as Geek Girl #1, a.k.a. the girl in the neck brace, Sixteen Candles was the second of (currently) 10 movies in which the siblings have appeared in together.

9. THERE WERE MORE FAMOUS FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE FILM.

When Ginny, Sam’s sister whose pending marriage takes the attention away from Sam’s sixteenth birthday, sits down in the church scene, she does so next to John and Jim Belushi’s mother Agnes. The reverend is played by actor Brian Doyle-Murray, Bill’s older brother.

10. IT WAS ONE HOT SCHOOL DANCE.

The gym in which the school dance was filmed didn’t have air conditioning due to a lack of funds, so it was over 100 degrees during the filming. The same goes for Sam’s bedroom, as the set was built inside the high school gymnasium. At least Ringwald got to decorate her character’s room with items from her own dwelling.

11. SOME OF THE LICENSE PLATE NUMBERS WERE EASTER EGGS.

Sam’s grandparents’ license plate read V 58 for “Vacation ‘58,” the National LampoonMagazine story by John Hughes which led to the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. Jake Ryan’s Porsche had the plate number 21850, for John Hughes’ birthday of February 18, 1950. For what it’s worth, Molly Ringwald’s birthday is also February 18th.

12. JAKE’S FATHER’S ROLLS-ROYCE IS WORTH MORE THAN $66,000 TODAY.

The 1974 Corniche, which Farmer Ted uses to drive drunk Caroline Mulford home, was John Hughes’ father’s friend’s car. Naturally.

13. MOLLY RINGWALD’S MOTHER HAD A SAY IN THE SCRIPT.

In the initial script, Sam’s father ends his heart-to-heart with his daughter by flat out askingwhat happened to her underwear (she gave it to Farmer Ted.) Molly’s mother pointed out that it was weird for a girl’s father to ask that. Hughes agreed that it was creepy and changed the line.

14. A DELETED SCENE IS ONLY IN THE TELEVISED VERSION.

Not in the theatrical cut, the VHS copies, or even as a DVD extra, a scene set in the school cafeteria fills an additional minute of time.

15. THE BIRTHDAY CAKE AT THE END ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS.

It turns out Jake is a bit of a cheapskate. The cake he gave Sam was made of cardboard.

16. MOLLY RINGWALD WAS INTERESTED IN DOING A SEQUEL.

After rejecting various pitches through the years, Ringwald said in 2005 that she read a 32 Candles script that she liked and had an interest in starring in. For better or worse, we still wait.

 

According to Roger Ebert:

“Sixteen Candles” is a sweet and funny movie about two of the worst things that can happen to a girl on her sixteenth birthday: (1) Her grandparents shrieking “Look! She’s finally got her boobies!” and (2) her entire family completely and totally forgetting that it’s even her birthday. The day goes downhill from there, because of (3) her sister’s wedding to a stupid lunkhead, (4) her crush on the best-looking guy in the senior class, and (5) the long, involved story about how a freshman boy named the Geek managed to get possession of a pair of her panties and sell looks at them for a dollar each to all the guys in the locker room.

If “Sixteen Candles” begins to sound a little like an adolescent raunch movie, maybe it’s because I haven’t suggested the style in which it’s acted and directed. This is a fresh and cheerful movie with a goofy sense of humor and a good ear for how teenagers talk. It doesn’t hate its characters or condescend to them, the way a lot of teenage movies do; instead, it goes for human comedy and finds it in the everyday lives of the kids in its story.

The movie stars Molly Ringwald as Samantha, a bright-eyed teenager who pulls off the difficult trick of playing a character who takes everything too seriously — without ever taking herself too seriously. The movie’s told mostly from her point of view, and it’s like “Valley Girl” — it’s about young kids who think a lot about sex, but who are shy and inexperienced and unsure and touchingly committed to concepts like True Love. She has a crush on a senior boy named Jake (Michael Schoeffling), who looks like Matt Dillon, of course, and doesn’t even know she’s alive. Meanwhile, the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) is in love with her. Also, there are complications involving Jake’s stuck-up girlfriend, Samantha’s impossible grandparents, various older and younger brothers and sisters, and a foreign exchange student named Long Duk Dong, who apparently has come to this country to major in partying.

“Sixteen Candles” contains most of the scenes that are obligatory in teenage movies: The dance, the makeout session, the party that turns into a free-for-all. But writer and director John Hughes doesn’t treat them as subjects for exploitation; he listens to these kids. For example, on the night of the dance, Samantha ends up in the shop room with the Geek. They’re sitting in the front seat of an old car. The Geek acts as if he’s sex-mad. Samantha tells him to get lost. Then, in a real departure for this kind of movie, they really start to talk, and it turns out they’re both lonely, insecure, and in need of a good friend.

There are a lot of effective performances in this movie, including Paul Dooley as Samantha’s harried father, Blanche Baker as the zonked-out older sister, Hall as the Geek, and Gedde Watanabe as the exchange student (he elevates his role from a potentially offensive stereotype to high comedy). Ringwald provides a perfect center for the story, and her reaction in the first scene with her grandmother is just about worth the price of admission.

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One thought on “On Sixteen Candles

  1. Pingback: On The Breakfast Club | The Progressive Democrat

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