John Hughes became a pop culture pioneer of the 1980s when he directed his first film, “Sixteen Candles.” The film adopted a slapstick approach to teen anxiety related to love, cliques and high school popularity. Had Hughes waited much longer, it’s fair to say the film might not have ever gotten made. In a current age of political correctness and Me Too movements, “Sixteen Candles” is more shocking than originally intended.
There is no way this film would be made with a character like Long Duk Dung as a run on gag Chinese foreign exchange student with a stereotypical Asian accent of mispronunciations, presumptions of mental retardation, and an accompanying “GONG” each time the film circles back to him. It is fair to say this is equivalent to when Buckwheat would swipe the sweat off his brow against a nearby wall and it would appear as ink stains in your random “Our Gang/Little Rascals” films. Actor Gedde Wantanabe who plays Dong has gone on record saying he was vilified for the role since the release of the film.
Date rape is also a common element of the film. Dong is implied to be a victim by a butch high school girl, while in another storyline the hot guy Jake implies to the geek, Farmer Ted, an offer to have his way with Jake’s intoxicated girlfriend. Freshman nerd Ted takes as much advantage of the opportunity as he can by taking photographs with the girl and then even forgetting what exactly occurred the next morning but making hopeful assumptions nevertheless simply to further his reputation.
Hughes had no idea at the time that his material would carry a shock element beyond silliness. I’m convinced of that. It’s fair to say “Sixteen Candles” is a byproduct of the raunchiness delivered by “Animal House.” I’m content with that because it is very, very funny.
Molly Ringwald is Samantha who is beside herself when everyone has forgotten her birthday while Jake seemingly doesn’t even know she exists. It’s a lot to deal with for a high school sophomore. Ringwald embraces the frustration nicely as she doesn’t try for the comedy but often becomes the embarrassing victim of Hughes’ set ups: invasive grandparents, Long Duk Dong, Farmer Ted’s obsession with her, and even giving up her underpants as a special favor.
The transitional arc of the script almost parallels John Hughes’ method of writing in his career. The script is primarily broad in its comedy. I said earlier it is rife with raunch and slapstick. That is until the end with a mature, candle lit first kiss over a birthday cake accompanied by Thompson Twins. It’s sweet, sensitive and Hughes tells us for the first time in his career that he truly loves and cares for his characters. In one film, John Hughes approaches to a level of maturity.
The tenderness Hughes shows in this ending will be more evident and primary in his later films like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty In Pink,” (not directed, only written by him), “The Breakfast Club,” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.”
John Hughes’ legacy is unmatched. “Sixteen Candles” is proof of that, and though some today would be dismissive of its ingredients, it remains a defining film of what the 1980s provided, culturally. If you grew up during the decade of excess or likely the grunge of the ‘90s, chances are you attended a sleepover with friends watching “Sixteen Candles,” while making wonderful memories of laughs and bonding.
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