Study Guide

Sixteen Candles Themes

  • Betrayal

    Betrayal's a strong word for what happens in Sixteen Candles. No one has an affair with someone else's spouse. No one drops their best friend off a cliff to save themselves. But teenagers love using strong, melodramatic words, and Sam definitely feels betrayed by her family for forgetting her sixteenth birthday. Her life is ruined. Ruined.

    At least for one day. But a day is a long time when you're sixteen. It's .02% of your whole life.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Why is Sam so upset that her family forgets her birthday? Why is it so important?
    2. How does Sam show her family she is upset that they forgot?
    3. How does her family make it up to her that they forget? Or do they? Does Sam forgive her family for forgetting her birthday?
    4. How does Caroline betray Jake's trust? How does he let her know that she hurt his feelings?

    Chew on This

    Some people would lash out, but Sam reacts to her family forgetting her birthday by retreating into her own head and getting depressed. This is a pretty realistic depiction of anger at sixteen years old.

    No one's good about actually expressing that their feelings have been hurt. Jake searches for a new girlfriend without even telling Caroline, which makes Sam's passive aggressive attitude toward her family pale in comparison.

  • Lust

    On the surface, teenage crushes seem cute and innocent. But they're controlled by only one thing: raging hormones. We may say we like someone, love someone, or, most serious of all, like like someone. But we really mean that other l-word: lust.

    The teens in Sixteen Candles are no different. Sam declares her love (i.e. lust) for Jake Ryan on something called a "sex test" and the Geek can hardly keep it in his pants. By "it," we of course mean his roll of breath mints. Fresh breath is a priority in his life.

    Questions About Lust

    1. Why is the Geek attracted to Sam? Why is Jake attracted to Sam? Do they like her for he same reasons?
    2. Which character is most controlled by his or her hormones? How does that person act?
    3. How long will Sam and Jake's relationship last?
    4. Does Sam's feelings for Jake remind you of your own high school crush(es)?

    Chew on This

    The characters in this movie might be ruled by their hormones, but John Hughes understands this is normal for teenagers, so he doesn't punish them for it. He rewards them in the end.

    That doesn't stop Hughes from treating their behaviors, like the Geek's desperation, in comedic ways, however. It can be difficult to tell if he respects his subjects, is making fun of them, or both.

  • Coming of Age

    We all do it…whether we want to or not. Sometime between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine we all look around, horrified, and realize: "Oops. I've grown up."

    And certain milestones underline the whole growing-up process. You get to drink at age twenty-one. You get to vote at age eighteen. You get to rent a car (with fewer fees!) at age twenty-five.

    But very few milestones are as celebrated for girls (in the American imagination, at least) as the sweet sixteen. And Sixteen Candles is all about how a sweet sixteen birthday can go terribly wrong…but how that "going terribly wrong" part might actually aid in coming-of-age.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. How would things be different if Sam's parents had thrown her a party? Would she trade this day for a party instead if she could?
    2. How would this movie be different if Sam were a guy? Do guys place the same emphasis on the sixteenth birthday?
    3. Did you have a sweet sixteen party? Or a quinceanera? How did it compare to Sam's memorable day?

    Chew on This

    Sam's able to get what she wants without needing to go through any specific coming of age ritual. She makes her sixteenth birthday a unique one.

    Sam's entire life would be better if her parents had only remembered her birthday in the first place.

  • Family

    We've heard hundreds of times that you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. Your family, however, can choose to wish you happy birthday. After all, your mom and dad of all people should know exactly when you were born. They were there.

    Sam's family is pretty dysfunctional. Although we never see them on a normal day, so we're not quite sure how they act when they're not planning a wedding and forgetting their own daughter's birthday. Something tells us Dad is always caring, Mom is always a little scatterbrained, Mike is always bratty, Ginny is always a little snotty, and the other one…is…well, we're surprised they remember she exists at all.

    Questions About Family

    1. Does Sam fit in with her family? Do you think she likes them on a normal day?
    2. How do you think the Baker family acts when they don't have a wedding to plan?
    3. Will the Bakers and the Riesczecks get along after the wedding?
    4. Do the Bakers remind you of your own family?

    Chew on This

    Sam's family's pretty dysfunctional, but the easy way she forgives them at the end shows us that they care about each other, even if they sometimes have trouble showing it.

    Family's a common theme in John Hughes films. The Baker family scrambling for the wedding resembles the McCallister family scrambling to get ready for vacation in Home Alone.