I enjoy throwing odd ones up occasionally, whether they’re inexplicable (Transporter 2) or heavily based in nostalgia (any Godzilla film). Sixteen Candles is somewhat both, though renting it was the fiancée’s idea. My freshman year of college, I did one of my presentation on racism in John Hughes’ films. Sixteen Candles has some great examples–not just the Chinese exchange student frequently referred to as “the Chinaman,” and played by the obviously ethnically Japanese Gedde Watanabe–it also makes fun of the physically handicapped. Great stuff there. I also remember it being one of my favorite Hughes films. It’s hard to have a favorite Hughes film because none of them are any good, but after this viewing, I think I can safely say Sixteen Candles is my favorite. In fact, it’s the only one I’d watch again.
Immediately after this film, Hughes started infusing his films with social commentary (usually about the poor boy and the rich girl or the poor girl and the rich boy) and it was pretty bad. For the first half of Sixteen Candles, I was going to decry Hughes as the forebear of shitty Hollywood story structure. Molly Ringwald–the lead of the film–disappears for about twenty minutes, maybe more, and the film’s only ninety minutes long. In her absence, there are these great scenes with Michael Schoeffling and Anthony Michael Hall–and I realized why I liked Sixteen Candles so much. The film makes no claims at reality–it speaks directly to the viewer on a few occasions, something Hughes later milked in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off–and there’s no real dramatic tension. It’s an incredibly light comedy and taken as such, it’s a pleasant diversion.
Oddly (given National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), Sixteen Candles fails the most in the simple family situation. Hughes doesn’t know what to do–he gives Ringwald an asshole little brother and a doped-up sister. He can’t even give Paul Dooley anything to do. Ringwald holds a lot of the film together, but it’s Schoeffling and Hall who really have the most to do. I’d never been particularly impressed by Hall–never had any idea why, for instance, Kubrick wanted him for Full Metal Jacket–but he does a good job in an impossible role. His character completely changes–in the viewer’s perception–in a six or seven minute scene. It’s good work. Schoeffling never really went anywhere. However, according to one website, endless numbers of baby boys born in the mid-1980s were named Jake after his character. He has even more impossible role of being the perfect guy and turns it into a deep performance. There’s none of that series Hughes teen angst in this one, so the actors aren’t given anything impossible to pull off. Their only job is to make the viewer enjoy the film.
As for Hughes the director… well, Sixteen Candles has got to be his best looking film. The cinematography is incredibly lush in this one. It’s not as far removed as Technicolor, instead a welcoming, idealized reality (there’s also little damaging violence inflicted on the film’s many “geeks,” another bit of that idealization).
Sixteen Candles is not a great film. Even without the bigotry, there’s the incredible shallowness. However, it’s acceptance of that shallowness is exactly what makes it an enjoyable experience.
Written and directed by John Hughes; director of photography, Bobby Byrne; edited by Edward Warschilka; music by Ira Newborn; produced by Hilton A. Green; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Molly Ringwald (Samantha Baker), Justin Henry (Mike Baker), Michael Schoeffling (Jake Ryan), Haviland Morris (Caroline Mulford), Gedde Watanabe (Long Duk Dong), Anthony Michael Hall (The Geek), Paul Dooley (Jim Baker), Carlin Glynn (Brenda Baker), Blanche Baker (Ginny Baker), Edward Andrews (Howard Baker), Billie Bird (Dorothy Baker), Carole Cook (Grandma Helen), Max Showalter (Grandpa Fred), Liane Alexandra Curtis (Randy), John Cusack (Bryce) and Darren Harris (Cliff).