Sixteen Candles was released on May 4, 1984. The directorial debut of John Hughes, the film follows, among an array of memorable and delightfully weird characters, Samantha Baker, a high school sophomore on the day of her 16th birthday.
It is, without a doubt, my very favorite movie of all time.
No matter how old we get, no matter how many movies or TV shows depict it, the idea that high school is hard for everyone, even the popular kids, remains a revolutionary concept. Our past challenges always feel strangely exclusive, and we can get possessive of that; emboldened by our challenges, we become owners of the loneliness. But, if we’re lucky, we find our own weird families to be weird with us. Sometimes those families aren’t living, breathing people, but characters with dual citizenships in both the screen and our souls. I have felt closer to TV and film characters than I ever have to most people—and I know I’m not alone in this.
Sixteen Candles was one of the first movies to ever make me feel that way — to make me feel like I wasn’t alone, that other people felt awkward and strange and ignored and ridiculous, too. That I wasn’t wrong for feeling that way, that it didn’t mean I was broken. If Samantha Baker felt that way, and so did Jake Ryan and even perfect Caroline, I was probably pretty OK.
John Hughes crafted an entire career out of reminding the lonely that we weren’t alone. That there existed people just like us, even if those people sprouted from his mind and fingertips. That high school, that life in general, can be complete nonsense. And it’s sad and scary and weird and wonderful. That’s what he did. That’s what he did for me. For all of us. He rescued high school. He rescued me.
In 2010, in one of my very first (and only) Pajiba reviews, during one of our (desperately missed) theme weeks, I wrote about Sixteen Candles as my very favorite movie of the ’80s (an understatement to be sure).
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.
Thank you, John Hughes, Samantha, Farmer Ted, Jake and everyone else. You made us laugh. You made us feel less alone. For that, you’ll always be special.