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 ReviewsThe 'Burbs
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