Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Movie Review: Sixteen Candles (1984)


A wistful coming-of-age high school comedy, Sixteen Candles was the first in a series of landmark John Hughes films exploring teen angst, and his first collaboration with Molly Ringwald. The film easily swims in the turbulent waters of the teen world, where the briefest of glances between boy and girl can carry the most exaggerated of meanings.

It's the sixteenth birthday of Samantha Baker (Ringwald), but none of her family members are even aware of her big day. Mom (Carlin Glynn) and Dad (Paul Dooley) are preoccupied with the upcoming wedding of Sam's older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker). To make matters worse, Sam is kicked out of her bedroom to make room for the arrival of two sets of annoying grandparents, while her younger brother (Justin Henry, of Kramer vs. Kramer fame) insults her for sport. And somehow, a Chinese exchange student by the name of Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) also arrives to stay at the Baker's house.

But Sam's real problems are at school. She covets the attention of hunky Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), although she is convinced (wrongly) that he does not even know that she exists. Jake's trophy girlfriend Caroline (Haviland Morris) is proving to be a major pain, while the obnoxiously sweet Ted, better known as just Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) is doing all he can to gain Sam's attention, mainly to win bets with his friends (including a young John Cusack).

Hughes fills every frame of Sixteen Candles with manic activity, and there is always something going on in the background and in every corner of what the camera casually captures. As much as Hughes understands and reflects the conversations, hopes, fears and embarrassments of teens, it's the entire overwhelming teen experience of life flooding in to clear out the security blanket of childhood misconceptions that he nails, from the highs to the lows and everything in between.

Ringwald, in her breakout role, provides an affecting performance as Sam, her eyes and mouth conniving to create a victimized pout that can't quite succeed in hiding a slightly mischievous character. Understated, vulnerable, sassy and resigned to thrashing her way through the turbulence of high school crushes, Ringwald's Samantha  radiates the natural and awkward charm of a girl opening her eyes to the chaos of adulthood, coveting the attention of her parents while beginning to carve her niche in the world.

Michael Schoeffling did not have much to work with, the handsome yet sensitive personality of Jake almost too good to be true, although the character became a durable legendary ideal for teen girls. His only problem is his girlfriend, and Caroline is all too easy to dispose of after a few drinks. Anthony Michael Hall leaves a stronger impression as the Geek, a uniquely self-aware personality struggling to make a breakthrough with girls while adhering to the confines of nerdiness. Hall used this springboard for several further collaborations with Hughes and a brief reign as the most likable brainy persona in the movies. Cusack, as one of the Geek's even more geeky friends, emerged from the supporting cast to enjoy a stellar career.

Sixteen Candles is funny, thoughtful, heartfelt, and sometimes chaotic -- a good metaphor for what being sixteen is all about.






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