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SIXTEEN CANDLES

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 17, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: We had a running joke about ‘Sixteen Candles’ in my house when my two young teenage daughters wanted to see the film in theaters, and later when it came out on videotape. They both felt quite persecuted since all their friends could see it. But Dad, who went to all the movies in those days and wrote them up for the Deseret News, wasn’t about to allow them to be exposed to the amount of crass content the film contains, PG rating or no PG rating. In retrospect, it’s a bit surprising how raunchy the film is, but this was the 1980s and in comparison to all the R-rated teen comedies flooding theaters at the time this was a breath of fresh air. But I still felt it was too much for its teenage target audience. Oh well. Now the film has earned a remastered Blu-ray upgrade with loads of new bonus features, including one with Utah native Gedde Watanabe, courtesy of Arrow Video. My review was published on May 4, 1984.

The first directing effort of Chicago screenwriter John Hughes, who has scripted “Mr. Mom” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” among others, has a number of real strengths — but it also has an almost equal number of real weaknesses.

Still, on the whole, “Sixteen Candles” is one of the more satisfying teenage comedies to come along in some time and is a commendable directing debut.

That’s not to say it doesn’t spend too much time with sexual obsession, as do most teenage movies these days, but it does handle the subject in a more generally believable way, without treating all the young characters as slobbering idiots. And that’s saying something, when you consider the number of comedies these days that do just that.

Molly Ringwald, a real charmer who has been featured in “Tempest” and “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” stars as a young high school sophomore whose 16th birthday is overlooked by her parents.

Given that the parents are in the midst of frantic preparations for her older sister’s wedding, which is the next day, it is almost understandable.

     

Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 'Sixteen Candles' (1984)

But Ringwald is crushed, to say the least, and since her sister (Blanche Baker) is a prim and proper glamour queen while she considers herself something of a wallflower, the lack of attention doesn’t help her self-image.

The film follows Ringwald through her birthday and the following day, as she meets the school “geek” (Anthony Michael Hall) and falls in love with a senior (Michael Schoeffling) who just happens to be growing tired of his glamorous but insensitive girlfriend (Haviland Morris).

Though the intention is clearly to explore Ringwald’s coming-of-age, the film focuses almost as much on Hall, and it’s easy to see why. Hall runs away with the film every time he’s on the screen. Energetic, pushy and more than a little klutzy, Hall’s character is enamored of Ringwald but backs off and helps arrange her meeting with Schoeffling. Hall is, in the end, just interested in having his first sexual experience.

The story is often overly contrived and the message is unclear. Further, the PG rating is pushed a bit too far with nudity (Morris in the always-present shower scene), a lot of sex talk and profanity. And sex itself is treated a little more casually than most parents would probably like.

On the plus side, however, “Sixteen Candles” creates real characters that are embodied by likable actors, acceptably young for a change. Schoeffling is the least convincing of the bunch but he doesn’t have much to do besides brood about his relationship with Morris. Morris, on the other hand, comes off surprisingly sympathetic in the end.

     

Molly Ringwald, Michael Schoeffling, 'Sixteen Candles' (1984)

Paul Dooley as Ringwald’s father does a nice turn, as usual, and you probably won’t recognize Justin Henry as Ringwald’s obnoxious, overweight younger brother; Henry was the little boy in “Kramer vs. Kramer” a few years back. John Cusack and Darren Harris are also enjoyable as Hall’s nerd buddies.

But the film belongs to Ringwald and Hall, and not necessarily in that order. They are both loaded with screen charisma and they make the whole movie worth seeing. And there is little doubt you’ll be seeing quite a bit of them in the future.

Occasionally, Hughes tries too hard, as with Ringwald’s sister getting stoned at her own wedding (the slapstick doesn’t work very well), a Chinese exchange student with a double entendre name, and the loud obnoxious Mafiosi in-laws with whom Ringwald’s parents must contend.

Hughes is at his best when he’s developing his characters and the gently humorous scenes between duos (Ringwald and Dooley, Ringwald and Hall, Hall and Schoeffling, Hall and Morris) are by far the most successful.

For the most part, this is a gentle, funny, lighthearted romp that I found quite enjoyable, and a very nice change from the run-of-the-mill teenage comedies we generally get these days. Let’s hope other filmmakers sit up and take notice.

Maybe we’ll see a few more non-“Porky’s” teens on the screen.