By Sherry Lipp
This article first published as Blu-ray Review: Sixteen Candles on BlogCritics.org.
Back in the ‘80s, the late filmmaker John Hughes made his name with a string of popular teen comedies. He wrote and directed The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He also penned the screenplays for and produced Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. While Breakfast Club is often cited as his best, I’ve always found it to be a bit heavy-handed in its message. A group of obvious stereotypes finding common ground despite their differences is a fine message, but apparently not one that many teenagers have learned given the recent focus on anti-bullying. I have always been partial to Sixteen Candles, a slice of life about a teen having a very bad day. Sixteen Candles is funny and charming, and though it doesn’t carry the “important message” of The Breakfast Club, there are still a few lessons to be learned.
Molly Ringwald plays Samantha Baker. Samantha is all set to celebrate her 16th birthday, only to discover that her entire family has forgotten it. Their attention is focused on her older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker), who is getting married the next day. Samantha heads off for an ordinary school day where she and her best friend Randy (Liane Curtis) talk about boys and their lacking social lives. Samantha has a crush on Jake (Michael Schoeffling), a popular senior who is dating the equally popular and very pretty Caroline (Haviland Morris). Samantha doesn’t think Jake knows she exists, but in reality he intercepted a note telling of her infatuation with him. Her interest in him sparks his interest in her.
The plot is super simple. A girl likes a boy that is out of her league, but destiny awaits. It’s certainly been done tons of times. Where Sixteen Candles wins is in the details. Hughes throws in a lot of laughs that keep the movie moving at a brisk pace, for the first half at least. All of Samantha’s grandparents have come out for the wedding. They fawn all over her, make embarrassing jokes, even exclaiming that she has “gotten her boobies.” One pair of grandparents has brought along Long Duk Dong (Gedde Wantanabe), an Asian exchange student who loves mowing the lawn and doing their laundry. Despite the obvious political incorrectness, especially given the implication that Long Duk Dong is more of an indentured servant than a guest, the character has several funny moments as he tries to interact in his new surroundings. Having little interest in the preparations for her sister’s wedding, Samantha heads off to the school dance with Long Duk Dong in tow.
It’s there that she longs to talk to Jake, but is too shy to approach him. She also finds herself warding off the advances of an amorous geeky freshman who goes by Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall). Hall pretty much steals the show with his over the top antics as he tries to prove to his friends that he is a stud around girls. Look for John Cusack in a small role as one of Farmer Ted’s friends. Hughes does a great job of capturing the essence of being a teenager. He captures all the awkwardness of trying to get the attention of someone you like, of feeling too old to hang out with your family but being too young to be totally independent, and of being forced into situations you don’t want to be in. It’s all stuff that as an adult we realize wasn’t all that big of deal, but back then it meant everything.
Coupled with the relatability of the characters are many hilarious jokes and funny situations. Keep a look out for what’s going on in the background, such as a small kid attempting to wrestle a guy three times his size, or the kid at the dance who would rather be home with his parents. John Cusack’s sister Joan also has a funny appearance as a girl who has to awkwardly get through her days wearing a back brace (presumably for scoliosis). Not only is it funny, it’s also a subtle reminder that despite all of Samantha’s insecurities about her looks and her social status, she doesn’t have to deal with anything that bad. All of this works very well for the first half of the movie. The funniness seems to taper off in the second half after the school dance. The story gets bogged down with the romance angle. Still, it’s a well-made comedy, with Molly Ringwald giving a fine performance as an average teen dissatisfied with her averageness. Though the movie has ‘80s written all over it, the story holds up well even today.
The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 transfer. Digital noise reduction appears to have been used extensively to remove pretty much all of the natural film grain from the picture. I’m not a huge fan of grain reduction, and it’s not great here. The picture doesn’t necessarily look bad, but it’s bland. The detail is not nearly as sharp as it could be. The somewhat washed-out colors don’t exactly pop off the screen. As I said, it’s not terrible, but it’s certainly nothing special. The sound is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1. Surrounds are utilized most effectively for the loud music at the school dance and some light ambient sounds like crickets chirping. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand. Overall, the soundtrack is not spectacular, but everything works fine for the film.
There is only one special feature specific to the movie, a 38-minute featurette (produced for DVD in 2008) entitled “Celebrating Sixteen Candles.” It features interviews with some of the cast and some other industry professionals not associated with the film, including director Amy Heckerling. Notably absent is the film’s star Molly Ringwald. However there are interviews with Gedde Wantanabe, Anthony Michael Hall, and Justin Henry (who plays Samantha’s younger brother) to shed some light on the making of the movie. Other than that, the only features are a couple of “100 Years of Universal” advertisements disguised as “documentaries” (“Unforgettable Characters” and “The ‘80s”). Different variations of these are showing up on all the 100th Anniversary Universal discs. A standard DVD is also included.
Sixteen Candles is most enjoyable for fans who want the film in high definition. It’s still funny and a lot of fun to watch. The performances of Ringwald, Hall, and Wantanabe make this one worthwhile even if the digitally-scrubbed picture loses much of the grainy, ‘80s look.