Overview: Sam Baker experiences her worst day ever when her family forgets about her sixteenth birthday. Universal Pictures; 1984; Rated PG; 93 minutes.
The Good: The thing that most separates Sixteen Candles from other coming-of-age teen angst films is the script. It’s hard to get teenagers right, and there’s a reason John Hughes was a master of doing just that. The dialogue never loses its punch, but it also avoids becoming so cutesy and clever that it’s unrealistic. The casting makes it even better. Molly Ringwald is obviously believable as the everygirl lead character (it’s what she became famous for), but Michael Schoeffling and Anthony Michael Hall also lend some credence to roles that could have been completely hollow in less capable hands. The various actors and actresses who comprise Sam’s family work together to create a great dynamic. Justin Henry especially shines as Sam’s younger brother Mike, who is always ready to cut her down with a quip.
The Less Good: Sixteen Candles isn’t nearly as refined as Hughes’ later films. There are awkward scene transitions and musical cues that miss the mark. It also hasn’t aged as gracefully. Teenagers drink and drive with impunity. Gedde Watanabe’s Long Duk Dong is occasionally funny, but overall represents one of the most cringe-worthy stereotypes committed to film. Even more troublesome is the treatment of Caroline. Jake, the film’s dreamboat character, trades his drunk girlfriend to the geek for a pair of underpants. “I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to,” Jake notes shortly before handing Caroline off to the geek and then convincing her that the geek is, in fact, him. His parting words? “She’s totally gone. Have fun.”
The Timeless: Luckily, the film doesn’t dwell too much on its most unacceptable elements. If you can accept that a product of the early 1980s won’t mesh with modern sensibilities, there’s a lot to like about Sixteen Candles. The brisk pace and chirpy dialogue present teenage angst in a way that is believable and enjoyable, and Ringwald’s performance sets a standard for young actresses. She alone makes the film worth a viewing.
Overall: John Hughes’s directorial debut isn’t as good as it seemed in the 80s, but it’s still pretty damn good.