Reviewing ‘Sixteen Candles’ on its 35th anniversary

sixteen_candlesI’m not gonna lie. I barely remember anything about Sixteen Candles apart from the fact that I bought it as part of a boxed set of 80s teen movies. The only thing sparks familiarity is the final scene. As for what brought the characters to that scenario is a blur in my mind. Perhaps, this was why I decided to check out the teen movie on Netflix the other night. If you want to hear an understatement, I was really really shocked by the things that went down in this coming of age movie.

Synopsis: On her 16th birthday, Samantha Baker’s (Molly Ringwald) entire family completely forgets about her as they prepare for the big wedding of Sam’s older sister Ginny to a douchebag that nobody really likes. To console herself, Sam dreams that her long-time crush (and the most popular guy in school) Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) will notice her and by some miracle, he does. But before they get to say hi to each other, Sam suffers through every embarrassment possible, helped along by a geek (Anthony Michael Hall) who shares her bus and a foreign exchange student named Long Duk Dong.

I actually associate John Hughes with classic hits The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, which are also both Molly Ringwald starrers. These two films are the real epitome of 8os teen flicks. But now that I have re-watched Sixteen Candles, I am not surprised why I chose to blackout most parts from my memory. The film is a smorgasbord of stereotypes, stupidity, and chauvinism. The worst part is the extent of bad behavior that the characters were allowed to get away with, and wrapping up with a happy ending to reward them their transgressions. I can’t believe these were written by the same person.

To begin, Sam was justifiably upset when her family forgets her birthday. She was way within her rights to sulk and fantasize about the most popular guy in school. I get that. What I don’t get is why she allowed the geek character to get close to her, touch her and manipulate her into giving him her underwear, fully knowing that he will parade it around and make everyone think that something happened between them.

While most of the times, the geek character (this one didn’t even get a name) is sensitive and sympathetic, this guy is the absolute worst. He talks big. He lies and pretends he knows more than he does. He gets it on with a woman who is as drunk as a skunk and has the gall to brag to his friends about it. He even attempted to take photos as evidence that they got together. I repeat. The. Absolute. Worst.

Jake is no better. He was gullible enough to swallow the drivel that the geek fed him. He did not break up with his girlfriend before he tried calling Sam. Worse, he pawed off Caroline to the geek because he couldn’t be bothered by her.  He later presents himself as a prince to Sam on the merits of his popularity and looks. Seriously.

And come on, let’s not leave out the racism for the “Chinaman” Long Duck Dong. He was treated like a slave by Sam’s grandparents who made it no secret that they enjoyed having him around because he got things done for free. They also made him out to be ignorant and amorous, all because of his race.

Women are treated as accessories, as trophies that guys can use to upgrade their social status and said women allow it to happen because they see male attention as validation for everything. Sam celebrated Jack’s attentions when in fact, she was well aware that he had a girlfriend not a few hours ago. And Caroline willingly steps into the arm of the geek even without knowing the full extent of his douchebaggery the night before? I am appalled.

It’s not just because people are more inclined to be more sensitive about a lot of things now. I would say my threshold for offensive comedy can be pretty high. In any generation though, I would expect that there is a common definition of right and wrong. I was born in the 80s but I was shocked by how this film presented teens of this generation — superficial, stupid, opportunistic. No, I can’t accept that this reflects the 80s generation as a whole. There is not one sensible person in this movie, not one.

I get that a lot of these were written to be funny but the fact that the only justification about the characters’ actions was that they were young and stupid seemed like a bit of a stretch. The Breakfast Club was memorable because it depicted a group of teens living with societal stereotypes and trying to break away from them, but Sixteen Candles is the opposite. It boxes the characters into these stereotypes and expects audiences to accept their transgressions blindly. I actually couldn’t believe that these two movies were written and directed by the same person. Sixteen Candles, for the lack of a better word, is ridiculous. If you tell me I don’t get the point, feel free to bash me all you want. I don’t care. I wasted an hour and a half of my life for this.

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