91. Sixteen Candles

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1984, 93 Minutes
Director: John Hughes
Starring: Molly Ringwald & Anthony Michael Hall

By J.T. Tepnapa

Director J.T. Tepnapa

HERE’S A CLASSIC teenage romantic comedy from the 80s. I was informed by Jay Bell, author of the novel “Something Like Summer,” that I would be punched in the arm if I did not add Sixteen Candles to my list of 100 Films Before Summer.

“Please tell me ‘Sixteen Candles’ will be on this list. If not, I’ll be forced to punch you. In the arm. With my fist.” — Email from Jay Bell, Author

Thank you, Jay Bell, for threatening me with physical violence. Not only did I get to watch a quintessential teen movie, but I also got a peek into your mind. Your demented and warped mind.

Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) has been waiting years for the perfect Sweet Sixteen. She’s had dreams of a huge party, a new car, and maybe a sexy mature body.  When the day finally comes, she doesn’t look a day older than 15, her family forgets her birthday, and her perfect jock crush, Jake Ryan (Michael Shoeffling), doesn’t even know she exists. Samantha’s only recognition comes from a stalking nerdy freshman played by Anthony Michael Hall.

Can a girl like Samantha get a popular boy like Jake Ryan to notice her? After reading her “sex quiz,” meant only for Sam’s best friend, Jake does notice Samantha. Through a barrage of mishaps and embarrassments only a high school teenager can suffer they finally meet eye to eye.

The plot might be light, but what makes Sixteen Candles so adorable and funny is the amazing performances from the young Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. Ringwald dreaming of the perfect guy and Hall searching for popularity through any means — it’s sooo high school.

Hall: This information cannot leave this room. Okay? It would devastate my reputation as a dude.
Ringwald: No problem.
Hall: I’ve never bagged a babe. I’m not a stud.

Shoutouts go to the Cusacks! John Cusack as Hall’s best friend and Joan Cusack as the geek girl in headgear — a comedienne is born! Even though Joan’s part as a geeky girl last only seconds on screen, it’s more than enough time to steal the scene.  It was amazing to see such talented actors at the start of their careers.

John Hughes has been heralded for years for his ability to portray the teenage experience. He captures all the awkwardness, yearnings and agony of high school. And watching Sixteen Candles decades later, it becomes a time capsule of a forgotten era. Almost forgotten. The production design is so detailed, I found myself trying to immerse myself in all the details of a time that no longer exists. The 80s may be long gone, but the desires of ungainly teens seeking acceptance in a world where brawn and beauty reign remains relevant.

I HATE pulling this card, but I feel as an Asian-American I must mention that the portrayal of Chinese foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong (Gedde Wantanabe) is a bit offensive. Yes, this is old news. But I cannot gloss over this subplot. What fascinates me is that the offensiveness comes from his “fresh off the boat” performance and the stereotypical Chinese gongs and music that follow his scenes and yet he’s treated quite positively through his storyline and interactions with other characters. To be fair, everyone in Sixteen Candles is archetypical of American teens. In that way, Long Duk Dong fits in as just another awkward teen looking for love and acceptance.

A young Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald bare their souls in an unfinished automobile.
INCOMPLETE A young Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald bare their souls in an unfinished automobile.

MY FAVORITE scenes are definitely the quiet moments between Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. One particularly revealing scene takes place in auto shop with a disassembled car. The classroom is dirty, messy and probably a bit dangerous. Anthony Michael Hall destroys several auto parts on his way to Molly Ringwald. It’s one of the few moments they let their guard down and reveal their own dirty and messy little secrets. You know, I love sincere moments, and not only is this scene genuine, it’s just a cool location to bare their souls.

Like Summer

Because of Jay Bell’s insistence, I made Sixteen Candles a mandatory entry into 100 Films Before Summer. I looked for clues and connection between this movie and his novel, “Something Like Summer.” And wow, like a roadmap into Jay’s brain,  Sixteen Candles represents the seeds of Something Like Summer. You have all the angst of growing up, only now recreated for gay teens. Watching it unfold felt like I understood Jay’s desire to create the archetype Sixteen Candles omitted, the gay teenager.

Something Like Summer, of course, goes beyond John Hughes’ movie.  Instead of a few days’ jaunt into the life of the American teenager, Summer takes us on a  12-year journey from teenager to manhood. Something Like Summer goes beyond getting the guy of your dreams — what happens after you get him? The journey may not be as perfect as you dreamed it would be.


Aside from being an classic teen movie, it was fun to watch budding young actors before they became the stars they are today. Three sparkling hearts for fledgling actors in a great story and another for Jay Bell giving me a little access into his mind. Please don’t punch me, Jay. I bruise easily.


Buy the tricked-out High School Reunion Collection, the cheaper Flashback edition, or watch now on Amazon Instant, or download it on iTunes.

Original Trailer

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