Unbelievable. You Make Someone a Bridesmaid and They Sh*t All Over You.
The teen comedy genre is a mixed bag, quality-wise. They can range from the brow-furrowingly stupid (ex. Gimme An ‘F’), to the goofy but watchable (One Crazy Summer), to the cartoonish (American Pie, Porky’s), to the timelessly good, even great (Can’t Hardly Wait, The Sure Thing). But in a Tolkienesque world of one teen comedy to rule them all, the clear winner is Sixteen Candles.
Infinitely quotable, beloved across gender, social and taste lines, and featuring one of the finest casts of characters ever assembled, Sixteen Candles is one of my top three favorite movies of all time. I love it like a person. Hell, I love it like a dog. People have let me down. But Samantha Baker is always there for me, and long before Lloyd Dobler ruined me for good, Jake Ryan laid the groundwork for no man to ever come close.
Also, the film’s Wiki page includes this chestnut: “Movie critic Karen Fang has argued that Long Duk Dong’s name may be a penis-related pun.” It’s possible that this is as funny as anything in the movie.
The plot is deceptively simple. Samantha wakes up on her sixteenth birthday. Due to this auspicious day falling the day before her sister’s wedding, her family forgets. Oh, and she’s hot for Jake Ryan (aren’t we all — sa-woon). That’s pretty much it. But it’s so much more. This is a movie completely made by characters and moments. And not merely the main characters. Every single character, even the minor ones only onscreen for a moment (“I wanna go home! I wanna be with you guys!” - - guy springs to mind) is clear within seconds. We see Joan Cusack’s headgear girl on the bus, boom, character. We spend two minutes in Ginny Baker’s bedroom, boom, character. Caroline’s drunk friends, Rudy the Oily Bohunk, the grandparents, Jake Ryan’s gym buddy who calls Caroline a “wo-MAN.” It is impossible to pick a favorite. Though, honestly, my favorite probably is Ginny Baker. “I mean, I’ve had men who’ve loved me before. But not for six months in a row.”
It might be overboard to say that each character is fully fleshed out instantly, but was anyone in high school? In high school, people were “Skirted Sweatshirt Girl” or “Geordi La Forge Glasses Guy.” We didn’t always require the people in our every day world to be full people. They were often exactly what we needed them to be, whatever that may have been.
One thing the great teen comedies have in common is weirdness. There is always a great deal of absurdity happening amidst the plot. And that’s just as real as anything else. High school is weird. There is something intrinsically odd about a large brick building full of hormones, confusion, change and a very large teen-to-adult ratio. Sixteen Candles, for as weird as it gets, never feels wrong. It never feels disingenuous. Whereas every other film in the genre takes reality just one step beyond, the truly bizarre moments (the boy’s bathroom sophomore-panties summit, Long Duk Dong in general) feel real.
And that was the genius of John Hughes. He knew high school was strange and sad and furious and ridiculous and mortifying and sometimes wonderful. He hit on every aspect that makes this particular point in our lives such a prevalent topic for writers, and he did it better than anyone. And he did it hilariously.
I love The Breakfast Club, but apples to apples, Sixteen Candles feels so much more real. High school was hard, but it was almost hysterically so. We’re never more over the top than that four year period during which we’re trying to figure out exactly who the hell we are. Sure, you cry about it. But, later, perhaps much much later, you laugh about it.
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