Sixteen Candles (1984)
Sixteen Candles (1984)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: May 4th, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: John Hughes Actors: Molly Ringwald, Justin Henry, Michael Schoeffling, Haviland Morris, Gedde Watanabe, Anthony Michael Hall, Billie Bird, Carole Cook, Liane Curtis, John Cusack




t’s her sixteenth birthday, but sophomore Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) still feels fifteen. Her older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is to be married tomorrow, while her much younger siblings perpetually quarrel. When Samantha’s mother and father don’t remember it’s her birthday, she becomes outraged. And that’s just the start to a particularly memorable, primarily excruciating 24 hours.

Looking forward to a “sweet sixteen” party but not even getting a verbal greeting, she instead trudges through a boring day at school, contends with her visiting grandparents (one set takes over her room, while the other set mortifyingly comments on her development of breasts), is relegated to the sofa, is insulted by her sister, and deals with the presence of Asian exchange student Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe, regularly accompanied by stereotypical oriental music). Things go from bad to worse when Samantha attends a school dance that night and is caught staring at crush Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) while he embraces his serious girlfriend (the insensitive Caroline, played by Haviland Morris), and when she’s stalked by desperate freshman geek Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), who is convinced that she’s the only one for him.

Writer John Hughes, who started his directorial efforts with this staple of 1980s teen comedies, adeptly scripts embarrassing situations and natural dialogue for a wide range of high school kids. Three distinct perspectives are at work: the senior guys, who value a girl based on sexual willingness; the younger girls, who not-so-accurately daydream about one day “doing it” with the hunky jock (sitting behind them in class); and the dweeby freshmen (including an 18-year-old John Cusack), striving to obtain prized panties from older teens. It’s all R-rated fun, full of angst, rebellion, wildness, destruction, and excessive drinking, with a superbly cast Ringwald in the middle, keeping things grounded in reality even if the ultimate outcome is farfetched.

At times it’s laugh-out-loud funny, highlighting the awkwardness of adolescence through alternations of clumsiness, low self-esteem, misadventures of spontaneous maturation, and misinterpretations of emotions. Unfortunately, not every joke sticks. But numerous, abrupt musical cues successfully and comically suggest fright, dismay, disapproval, and celebratory revelry (aided by a hip soundtrack); all-knowing parental guidance contrasts the unexpected coaching of a macho man by a nerd in the ways of seduction; and classic coming-of-age essentials involve the passing of risqué notes, misguided notions of true love, parties when the parents are out, bagging the prom queen, and a girls’ locker room scene. With its car-based shenanigans, it’s something of an “American Graffiti” for girls of the ‘80s. Though the look and costuming is dated, the content is not, idealistically and satisfyingly concluding with the all-around good guy unpredictably and romantically pursuing the girl who thought she was a forgettable nobody.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10