- Movie Rating -

Sixteen Candles (1984)

| May 4, 1984

If there is a universe unto raunchy teen comedies then Sixteen Candles floats near the top and Porky’s lays at the bottom.  The former has great observations of the awkwardness of adolescence while the latter is just mean and hostile.  Sixteen Candles is a very sweet movie, a funny movie, a raunchy movie that has all of the requirements of a teen movie but is infused with a great deal of humanity and truth.  If you were ever a teenager then something here will spark your memories.  John Hughes, the director, is sure of himself with the body language, the dialogue and most of the choices from the actors.

What is unusual here is that the focus comes from a girl who is issued the horrors of her 16th birthday, particularly the fact that her family has completely forgotten it.  Added to that is the misery of high school life, her massive crush on a hunk named Jake (Michael Schoeffling) and the unwanted advances of a kid named The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall).

Molly Ringwald plays Samantha in a well-tuned performance that, because of the genre, is likely to unappreciated.  She is awkward, insecure, takes things too seriously and hasn’t yet developed a world view of her own – she sees things as they happen.  The key here is that Ringwald is a 16-year-old girl.  Ever noticed how most teen characters in these movies are played by kids in their mid-20s?  The mainstay in Samantha’s worldview is a population of characters who seem to come at her from different angles.  The Geek approaches her with an adolescent sexual appetite that he seems to have learned from watching a lot of TV and movies.  Her parents regard her mostly as something that is in the way (they’re in the midst of preparations for their older sister’s wedding).  The older members of the family just want to focus on her growing body – her grandmother compliments “her boobies.”  And there’s a Japanese foreign exchange student who has the kind of pidgin English reserved only for movie stereotypes (he issues the film’s only clang.)

What separates Sixteen Candles from the usual crude entries in this genre is that this film is really about kids that we recognize.  Of course, they have sex on the brain.  Of course, they want to party.  Of course, there are crushes.  But it’s all done with a fine observation of how kids act.  A good example is The Geek, whose attempts to seduce Samantha are probably only cool to him.  He genuinely doesn’t know how silly he is making himself look.  There are things that we recognize, such as the fact that when he dances in the high school gym, he pulls his shirt tails out.  Or when he talks to Samantha later on, he drops the seductive posing and his voice begins to squeak – he has let his guard down.

The best moments here are the unexpected ones.  At one moment Samantha and The Geek end up in the shop room during a school dance and he makes a pass at her.  Her response is not shock and horror but a reasonable response that took me off-guard.  He is playing the role of the horned-up guy but then they begin to talk and The Geek is forced to drop the act.

But at the center of all this is Molly Ringwald, whose performance here never feels scripted.  She has perfect line-readings, perfect facial responses, a manner of carrying herself both at home, at school and at the dance that never feel like a performance.  I don’t know if she was playing this role or occupying it naturally but whatever she brings to it, it works.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy