March 1, 2011

1980s Comedies Marathon: Sixteen Candles (John Hughes)

Molly Ringwald celebrates her birthday in Sixteen Candles.

My Netflix queue is loaded with more than 450 titles, and I haven’t scratched the surface of all the interesting movies out there. Instead of blinding choosing what to watch next, I’m going to do what any nerd does best — I’m going to prioritize my pop-culture goals.

The blog format will keep me on track while I tackle short marathons of four to five films that will close some of my movie viewing blind spots. I’m starting with an easy one — some popular comedies from the 1980s that I’ve never seen. For the inaugural choice in my 1980s Comedies marathon, I’ve chosen John Hughes’ directing debut Sixteen Candles. I can’t really call myself a true ‘80s movie fan without seeing this seminal teen picture. Will it live up to the hype?

Samantha Taylor (Molly Ringwald) wakes up for a 16th birthday that no one remembers because of her sister’s impending wedding. She pines for handsome senior Jake (Michael Schoeffling) while avoiding the advances of the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall). Chaos ensues at a school dance and raucous house party, culminating in the big wedding the next day. Will Jake realize that Sam’s the one? Backed by excellent ‘80s music, he realizes that popularity and a hot girlfriend might not be enough. Meanwhile, the Geek tries to prove his “stud” reputation, and Sam decides this might be the worst day of her life.

Unlike later gimmick-driven comedies (hello American Pie!) that already feel dated, the confusions of teen life displayed in Sixteen Candles still hold true. Who can’t identify with parents forgetting your birthday? Samantha’s quiet crush on the unattainable cute guy makes sense to all of us, regardless of age. Some of the slapstick is forced, but I expect it felt the same way in 1984. The one problem spot is Gedde Watanabe’s Long Duk Dong character. He’s not at Andy Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s territory, but the portrayal inches towards that line. Dong’s silliness draws a few chuckles, but I cringed a few times when people called him a “chinaman”. And there’s nudity and cursing in a PG movie! Who knew? It was such simpler times back then.

The classic ‘80s soundtrack is pretty much flawless. Some tunes have disappeared from our consciousness, but classics by the Thompson Twins, the Specials, and countless others steal the show. For humor, check out the fancy car phone when the Geek is struggling to drive the Rolls Royce. Jake’s parents had it all! Finally, the famous closing shot of Sam and Jake sitting opposite over the cake is perfect, even when you expect it.

I’m amazed to read that Sam was actually one of Molly Ringwald’s first movie roles. Even when dealing with her crazy grandparents, sister, and classmates, she’s always believable. Anthony Michael Hall is also great as the Geek, both totally obnoxious and charming. Not everyone does so well, as many (including Dong and the sister’s in-laws) become almost too much to bear. But the leads’ charisma and sharp reactions keep the mayhem under control. Also, keep your eyes peeled for both John and Joan Cusack in small roles.

Sixteen Candles has some flaws and loses itself in the zaniness a few times, but its heart shines through. The music, fun, and Ringwald are nearly impossible to reject. Hughes writes many classic lines and avoids the trap of being overly clever. Real people do not talk like Juno or Dawson. Take notes, young screenwriters. Sometimes less is more. The awkward silences of Jake and Sam say a lot more than pop-culture quips.

Closing this out, I had fun with Sixteen Candles and appreciate finally watching it. It’s a great start to what should be an entertaining marathon of embarrassing misses.

Other 1980s Comedies Marathon Reviews

The 'Burbs
Trading Places
After Hours

7 comments:

  1. It's hard to go wrong with John Hughes. I've always thought he had his finger so closely on the pulse of the American teen that his movies are going to be timeless, even if the clothes and music are gain a slight passe quality.

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  2. I totally agree. A lot of his movies from the '80s hold up better than films that were just released a few years ago. They have the timeless quality that you can't predict but still works several decades later.

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  3. I'm going to be doing a post on 16 Candles soon myself, so I apologize, but I didn't read this one because I didn't want to subconsciously end up stealing some of your thoughts.

    I'm actually posting here just to let you know that I've made it back through your blog posts. I try to do this with all the blogs when I start to follow them. By the way, is there a reason you only have a "follow by email" option?

    I like what you've done here. I'm actually using a somewhat similar format where I make up a category and then review movies that I place in it (i.e. Gwyneth Paltrow is British, Commentaries in Character, Narrated by Dead People, etc.)

    I only do movies I would recommend to others, though, and I want at least three movies to write about before I do a category, so I may never end up doing some of the categories I've brainstormed.

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  4. Wow. Chip, I admire your dedication in reading through all these blog posts back to the beginning.

    Along with e-mail, there is an option to follow through an RSS reader like Google or others. There's an orange button in the top-right corner that offers that option. There's also a Twitter option too.

    I'll have to give your blog a closer look to check out your format. It's interesting that you only post about movies you'd recommend.

    Thanks!

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  5. "I'll have to give your blog a closer look to check out your format. It's interesting that you only post about movies you'd recommend."

    Thanks.

    I was always "the movie guy" among friends and co-workers. If they were looking for a movie to see or wondering how something was they'd come to me. I got into the habit of remembering what different people liked and as I saw new movies I thought they'd enjoy I'd let them know.

    People would say "you should start a blog." When I left work for a sabbatical I decided to finally do that. It also felt natural to write about movies I would recommend to others. I figured - out of the thousands of movies I could write about, why waste time writing about ones I didn't like? I'm not looking to be a movie critic whose job it is to review everything they see.

    From there I decided to create interesting categories beyond the boring old comedy, drama, action, foreign, etc. This is like your category of end of the world movies.

    It appears that you create categories more to then give you a reason to watch specific movies whereas I usually look for something unique that movies I have already seen have in common. Sometimes I will watch a movie to fill out a category (i.e. 14 Hours for my current Movies by the Numbers posts), but I have a long list of categories with movies already picked for them that I just need to get around to writing about someday. I had planned to do one a week, but that only lasted until summer came.

    Here is a post that will make it easier to see what categories I have done so far, if you are interested. (It doesn't include the Movies by the Numbers category that I am currently working on.

    http://tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/search/label/Movies%20%E2%80%93%20Category%20Intros

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  6. Chip, I like your approach. I can see your point about only writing about movies you recommend. I've found that with a lot of my reviews, I'm in the middle and use the writing on the blog to work through my feelings about a movie. That's why I avoid doing ratings, as I don't feel tied down by figuring out a specific grade.

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  7. Dan - Thanks. I'm actually bumping up against my minimum rating requirement now. In order to continue with the numbers in movie titles up to 50 I may need to write about some movies I am ambivalent on, rather than ones I would definitely recommend. I will need to decide whether to write about the movie or skip the number.

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