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Why Sixteen Candles is an easy film to get behind even after 35 years of its release

Why Sixteen Candles is an easy film to get behind even after 35 years of its release

molly ringwald films
Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in a still from Sixteen Candles

Sixteen Candles movie cast: Molly Ringwald, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Anthony Michael Hall
Sixteen Candles movie director: John Hughes
Sixteen Candles movie rating: 3 stars

1980s. John Hughes. Romantic film. Molly Ringwald. Connect the dots and you would find yourself looking at one of the biggest American classics. Yes, it is John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles that I speak of.

The success of last year’s To All the Boys I Ever Loved made me think (yet again) that we will never get over romantic comedies and this is primarily because of the things they stand for– escape, dreams, innocence, unbridled romance (at least emotionally) and nostalgia. And John Hughes’ films have been tapping into all these emotions with a precision that is satisfactory and unsettling at the same time.

It is satisfactory because you get what you had initially hoped for from the movie, and unsettling because Hughes has done this time and again. Sixteen Candles, just like other movies from Hughes’ filmography, contains honesty, wisdom, and some problem areas (which I will delve into briefly later).

One of my favourite lines from the movie, which summarises the essence of the narrative of coming-of-age films in general, is, “That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call ’em something else.” Sixteen Candles is about a girl called Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) whose family forgets to wish her on her sixteenth birthday, which further sets in motion a chain of misadventures and makes for some sweet and heartwarming moments. In the midst of all this drama stands, awkwardly and abashedly, Samantha’s feelings for a senior jock called Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling).

The premise of the film in itself is interesting, and Sixteen Candles is proof that if rom-coms are handled with honesty and grace, they will always come through in the end, leaving you smiling wistfully and longingly. Yes, even despite their predictability. But that doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t have its share of problems.

One sequence that is especially problematic is when young Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) gets to drive an inebriated Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris) home and then proceeds to have sex with her, which of course is non-consensual and is therefore rape. “She won’t know the difference,” Jake, the male lead, tells his high school junior and a very eager Ted when he hands the freshman his car keys. Not acceptable in any era. Not acceptable in any context.

Then there is the treatment of the film’s only Asian character Long Duk Dong (played by Gedde Watanabe). Treated as ‘the other,’ Watanabe’s character is in the film purely for comic relief. But then one can argue that the actor is known primarily for his flair for comedy and that one could expect only so much depth from a romantic comedy set in the 80s.

All said and done, Sixteen Candles is a reminder that we cannot be perfect but that we can learn our lessons at least. So future rom-com filmmakers, take notes.

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