Study Guide

Sixteen Candles

Sixteen Candles Introduction


Release Year: 1984

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Director: John Hughes

Writer: John Hughes

Stars: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling


What did you get for your sixteenth birthday? A fancy cake? A wad of cash? A car? If you answered "all of the above," will your parents adopt us? We can pass for sixteen, we swear.

Unlike people, not all birthdays are created equal. Most birthdays you can count on receiving some socks and underwear and maybe a gift card to a store you never shop at any other time of year (what's up, Tarot Card Supplies R' Us?).

And once you're twenty, any birthday that doesn't end in "0" might as well not exist. So sixteen is special. You can drive (yay!) and with parental consent you can get married in almost every state in the union (umm… yay?).

Because it's such a milestone, it's especially upsetting when that sixteenth birthday turns out to be a total flop. That's what happens to Sam Baker (Molly Ringwald) in Sixteen Candles. She wakes up on the morning of her sixteenth birthday not to cake and fanfare but to…absolutely nothing.

Silence can be a precious gift, but not on your birthday.

What could be the most boring day ever became a cultural touchstone in the hands of director John Hughes when the movie hit theaters in 1984. Teens across the country flocked to a film that showed them acting the way they actually acted. They partied, they drank, they swore. They basically act just like they do today, except with more neon clothing and less Snapchat.

The movie launched the careers of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, who would soon star in The Breakfast Club and become the Brat Pack, the defining faces of their generation. Like Sixteen Candles, that iconic film was also directed by John Hughes, a prolific writer who also wrote National Lampoon's Vacation and Home Alone.

He made everyone's favorite ginger, Molly Ringwald, into a teen queen. Everyone wanted to dress like her and act like her. Everyone wanted to be her.

Perhaps we shouldn't use past tense, because many people still idolize her. The film has quite a cult following today. Despite its reputation as a timeless teen classic, though, certain parts of Sixteen Candles are quite dated by today's standards, and we don't just mean the fact that Molly Ringwald now has a daughter who is almost the same age she was when she starred in the movie.

News flash: if you saw this movie in 1984, you are officially an Old.

  

To today's viewers, the movie raises questions about racial stereotypes and consent laws. Scenes that might have made viewers laugh in 1984 make people cringe and shift uncomfortably in their seats today. If John Hughes a) were still alive and b) tinkered with his movies the way George Lucas does, he might want to release a special edition that digitally edits out Long Duk Dong, the Jar Jar Binks of Sixteen Candles. 

But it's still possible to enjoy other elements of a movie even if certain scenes are problematic today. We can all relate to being an awkward teenager with an unrequited crush. And for fans of teen comedies and 80's nostalgia flicks, watching Sixteen Candles is like giving yourself a little birthday present on any day of the year.

What is Sixteen Candles About and Why Should I Care?

Molly Ringwald's now the mother of teenage children. (We repeat to all you 80's kids out there: you're old.)

But Ringwald's also the unofficial mom of Cher from Clueless, Cady from Mean Girls, Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You, Olive from Easy A, and even Hazel from The Fault In Our Stars. Yeah: she's a true matriarch.

The reason Dame Ringwald is a de facto house mama to teen-movie heroines everywhere is because Sixteen Candles basically redefined the teen movie genre. It did this by making its characters (mostly) realistic. They awkwardly fumble their way through a confusing high school landscape of cliques, crushes, and parties.

Before Sixteen Candles, teen movies were about teen girls, but not for teen girls. Think about Carrie—a movie that's a fantastic gorefest of fake blood, but doesn't really address what it's like to go through the slog of everyday high school. Think about Grease—a candy-coated, awesome 1950's sing-a-long that's built on the shaky premise that an Australian family would move to American and not tell their daughter until a few days before they boarded the plane.

But then John Hughes appeared on the scene with Sixteen Candles. The major drama in this movie? A birthday is forgotten. Crushes are formed. Creepy relatives are creepy. School is intimidating.

In short: it's way closer to the actual drama of high school than any "high school movie" that came before it.

And pretty much every teen movie stereotype is in this film, before it became a stereotype. It has the uncomfortable school dance, the all-night party, and the sweet but dopey parental units. Watching this movie, you can see how much high school movies have changed (for the better—the character of Long Duk Dong is insanely racist and this film is encouraging of date rate: double ick) but also how much in the genre has remained the same.

And if you want to chart the rise of the teen movie—and the teen movie star—look no further than Molly Ringwald, and Sixteen Candles.

Trivia

If John Hughes had a vanity plate, it might read ESTREG for "Easter Egg," because he hid little secrets in Sixteen Candles in the form of license plates. Jake's car's plate says 21850, and 2/18/1950 is John Hughes's birthday. The grandparent's car's plate reads V58, which is referencing "Vacation '58," the short story John Hughes wrote that inspired one of his first movies, National Lampoon's Vacation. (Source)

When Sixteen Candles is shown on TV, one memorable line is changed to "I'd spit twice and die." To make up for the loss in expletive, a deleted scene is sometimes added. In the cafeteria line, Sam talks about how her carrots aren't doing anything for her bustline, and she panics that Jake might find out that she eats. Does this mean she doesn't even try the cake he gets her at the end? (Source)

Sam's little bratty brother has an Oscar nomination. Let's repeat: Sam's little bratty brother, who makes a joke about menstruation, has an Oscar nomination. At eight years old, Justin Henry became the youngest Oscar nominee ever for his role in Kramer vs. Kramer. Being around Meryl Streep definitely rubs off a bit. (Source)

Sixteen Candles Resources

Websites

A Wish Come True
Molly Ringwald's real-life sixteenth birthday wish must have been to be an actor, a singer, and an author, because all of those things have come true.

Geek Out
The Geek, Anthony Michael Hall, has a website, too. But only dorks still have links to their MySpace page.

Book or TV Adaptations

The Brat Pack
With The Breakfast Club, Molly Ringwald would later become the de factor leader of the Brat Pack. You can read about how that impacted a generation of fellow brats in this book.

Giving Tribute
Is John Hughes a genius? Writer Kirk Honeycutt thinks so. And Judd Nelson gave him a blurb, so it must be true.

A Few More Candles
People who saw Sixteen Candles in theaters are now old enough to be writers writing about Sixteen Candles.

Articles and Interviews

Fresh from the Time Capsule
Film critic Eric Snider explores the timeless appeal of Sixteen Candles. It helps that all the 80's music is still popular.

Everyone Makes Mistakes
Roger Ebert considered Long Duk Dong to be "high comedy." Two thumbs down, Roger.

Wet Hot American Summer
In the Merv Griffin video below, Ringwald talks about attending summer camp, like a normal, after Sixteen Candles. But it's anything but normal, as we find out in this interview.

Video

Moll and Merv
Merv Griffin didn't just create Wheel of Fortune, he also interviewed Molly Ringwald on his talk show.

Trailing Behind
Sixteen Candles might be timeless, but this trailer for it is so 80's.

Audio

The Human Stain
NPR explores the stereotype of Long Duk Dong, calling him a "stain" on film history and "'Every Bad Stereotype,' rolled into one character." Tell us how you really feel, guys.

A Moth to a Flame…or to YouTube
Molly Ringwald talks with the Moth Radio Hour about Sixteen Candles and going from telling other people's stories to telling her own.

Images

"Stuck Between a Half-Wit and a Heartbreaker"
That's how the trailer describes Sam's dilemma, pictured on the official movie poster. But which one is which?

Spoiler Alert
We love this vintage-style poster, even if it does give away the ending of the movie. (Psst: it's a happy one.)