Back Comments (12) Share:
Facebook Button
The 1980s was the irrefutable golden age of teenage movies. While the genre had a short rebirth in the ‘90s, it is questionable whether the films that explored the angst of the ‘90s teenager will be as fondly treasured in twenty years time as the films that chronicled the life of the ‘80s teen are treasured today. The insanely successful John Hughes brand of teen film began in 1984 with Sixteen Candles, starring his then newly discovered American sweetheart muse Molly Ringwald. Despite Hughes wish to make The Breakfast Club the first film in his high school trilogy, Sixteen Candles was deemed as the safer first film by the studio. So in order to get The Breakfast Club made, Hughes fast tracked the making of Sixteen Candles, the story of sixteen year old Samantha Baker’s (Molly Ringwald) forgotten birthday and her major crush on the most popular boy in school.

Sixteen Candles: High School Reunion Collection
The film begins on Samantha’s sixteenth birthday with her examining herself in the mirror, lamenting the lack of physical development the momentous day has brought. All she needs is six inches of bod and a great birthday. But when Samantha heads down stairs to go to school, it becomes shockingly apparent that her whole family has f**cking forgotten her birthday. The entire household is preoccupied with her sister Ginny’s wedding the next day and so Samantha’s birthday doesn’t rate a mention, not even from her mother who has not only forgotten her daughter’s birthday but has also forgotten to make her lunch, which just adds to Sam’s mortification.

Unfortunately, things at school aren’t going to improve Sam’s day. During independent study, Sam scribbles her desire for the most popular guy in school Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) on a sex survey that instead of ending up in the hands of her best friend Randy, ends up in Jake’s possession. After a long day of miserable classes and the constant contemplation of never having a chance with her crush, Sam must face the loathsome journey home on the school bus. Filled with geeks and nerds who wear jockstraps on their heads, the bus is a circus on wheels, but the most renowned Geek doesn’t emerge until the bus is nearly empty. With the Dragnet theme heralding his approach, The Geek a.k.a. Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) sits himself next to Sam and adds to the disasters of her day by trying to ask her out. When Sam finally makes it home things go from bad to worse as the grandparents have descended on the Baker household, with exchange student Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) in tow. The grandparents take over Samantha’s room, relocating her to the couch. To escape for the night she goes to a school dance with the hope of seeing Jake Ryan. But instead she is once again beset upon by the Geek. But in true teen movie style, Jake has also noticed Samantha and wants to drop his stuck up girlfriend and get into a proper relationship with Samantha.

Sixteen Candles: High School Reunion Collection
As the night progresses into the following day, Farmer Ted manages to impress his geek cronies and offer somewhat wise advice to both Jake and Samantha about their potential relationship. Long Duk Dong learns the art of partying and scores himself a hot American girlfriend, and Samantha’s sister gets married to ‘the oily bohunk’. Overall, the plot of Sixteen Candles is simple and predictable and in the hands of different actors and a different director the film could have easily turned into one of the more forgettable teen flicks of the ‘80s, of which there are plenty. Instead, it puts almost every other teen film of the ‘80s, and any other decade, to shame.

Despite only taking place over a two day period, Sixteen Candles develops at a swift pace with a variety of quirky characters all getting plenty of screen time. It is through the sincere and sweet performances of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall that the film doesn’t collapse under this frantic pace or overload of minor characters—-not that any of these minor characters aren’t entertaining. Of special note is the brother and sister act of John and Joan Cusack. While these two don’t really appear on screen together, John’s performance as geek Bryce and Joan’s performance as Geek Girl #1 stand out against all the other eccentric characters of the high school. And it’s within the environment of the high school that Sixteen Candles really excels. Granted, it is a Hughesque vision of an early ‘80s high school and the teenagers that inhabit it,  but through great attention to detail and an open, genuine affection for the central characters, Hughes creates a fantasy driven story in a semi-realistic setting that still captivates fans two decades after its initial release.

Teen cinema in the early ‘80s was limited to a a constant barrage of teen sex comedies, with an almost endless stream of films like The Last American Virgin and Porky’s hitting cinemas from 1982-1985. Amongst these reasonably entertaining flicks about teenagers’ universal pursuit of sex, there were more heartfelt romance centric teen films like Valley Girl and Sixteen Candles. These films signalled a change in teen films of the late eighties that adopted a more romanticised and restrained approach to teen angst and sex. Of course John Hughes pioneered this approach and Sixteen Candles was the film that introduced his multi-perspective view of the adolescent experience with a degree of understanding that is evident in most youth films that have appeared since.

Sixteen Candles: High School Reunion Collection
It is this degree of understanding that makes Sixteen Candles a meaningful blend of realistic teen experiences and embarrassments with a classic fairytale narrative. Hughes actually based the premise of a girl’s family forgetting her birthday on the real life experience of one his friends and in his trademark style, penned the script in two days. While the script does contain what have essentially become compulsory scenes for any teenage focused film: the school dance, the party that gets out of control and the kiss. There are a handful of scenes that make Sixteen Candles stand out, making it more than just a teen comedy. One of these is of course the conversation between Samantha and the Geek in the auto shop room. While the two awkward teens sit in a stripped down car, the Geek tries to jump Sam and she tells him to get lost. But eventually the two move past their initial reactions to each other and begin to talk and confide in each other. She about the disaster her birthday has been and he about his false status as an experienced dude. At the end of their little discussion, Samantha gives Farmer Ted her underpants and he encourages her to approach Jake.  

Up until this point in the film, Farmer Ted has appeared as a complete freak, his interactions with Sam treated like impending social disasters of the highest order. But after his somewhat sensitive interaction with Sam, Farmer Ted becomes the most interesting and appealing character of the film. Unlike most other nerdy or dorky characters in films, Farmer Ted with his earnest sense of humour and dare I say it, underlying coolness, is the most entertaining and memorable part of Sixteen Candles.

The Farmer Ted character also represents why Sixteen Candles may be the best teen film ever made. Farmer Ted is both sophomoric and sensitive. Switching from sex crazed to sensitive right till the closing credits. Sixteen Candles also effortlessly switches between downright silly, yet hilarious, moments to more sweet moments. These sweet moments are only sprinkled liberally throughout the film, but would of course come to dominate Hughes follow up film The Breakfast Club. Despite the sweetness evident in Sixteen Candles it is the comedy, both crude and clever, that really drives the film and Hughes has the comedic credentials to make it all work, even when it shouldn’t really work. Therefore, while The Breakfast Club may be a better film  and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is more entertaining, Sixteen Candles is really the best teen film Hughes ever made because it has all the best and worst elements that the teen film genre has to offer.

Sixteen Candles: High School Reunion Collection
Sixteen Candles has appeared on DVD twice and this version, released under the ‘High School Reunion’ banner is certainly the best version to date, although there are some problems. All editions of the film have been released in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and this release is enhanced for widescreen displays, however, this edition has a framing issue because the image appears to have been cropped. One previous edition of the film on DVD was actually just a direct laserdisc transfer and in comparing the laserdisc release and this release, the image has been cropped slightly on the left side. It’s a small issue, but certainly one to be aware of. Colours are strong and the overall image is sharp. Grain is minimal, but some scenes do suffer under an almost complete gloss of grain. While it’s evident that the source print has been cleaned up, much more attention could have been paid to restoring the print and some of the more visible defects could have been addressed.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS 5.1 track are available on this edition, but neither is particularly strong and there is barely any difference between the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks. It’s actually quite a disappointing transfer, especially as most of the promotion for this release trumpeted the 5.1 audio and the re-mastering of the original soundtrack music. Both of the tracks offer clear and audible dialogue and the stellar soundtrack sounds good, but not overly impressive. The soundtrack barely spreads into surround and only does because the level of the music has been pumped up. In almost every other way both tracks on offer could be classified as mono tracks with enhanced music.

Nada, nothing, zero, zip, not even a theatrical trailer. Special Edition! Where for art thou Special Edition?????

Sixteen Candles: High School Reunion Collection
Sixteen Candles is a classic, plain and simple. It has something for everyone and still continues to attract fans that weren’t even born when it was released. With the upcoming releases of collector’s editions of both Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, the question has to be posed why there are no indications for similar releases for both Sixteen Candles and Hughes other classic teen masterpiece The Breakfast Club.  Unfortunately, the answer seems to be that Hughes possesses most of the material that could be used as extras for a special edition release and currently isn't willing to release any of it. So until a special edition is on the horizon, this edition of Sixteen Candles offers up one of Hughes most treasured cinematic contributions in an reasonably strong package.