How old were you when you first saw “Sixteen Candles”? It’s a question I asked myself when thinking about this fan favorite, which is back on the big screen for the Hana Hou Picture Show.
I personally can’t remember the exact age I was when I first watched this seminal film. Maybe that’s because it’s a movie I’ve seen too many times for a full-grown man to admit. And why not? The story of Samantha Baker’s (Molly Ringwald) forgotten sweet 16 was the directorial debut of John Hughes, who crafted a golden age of teen comedies with “The Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
But while “Sixteen Candles” hasn’t changed in almost 30 years, I certainly have. And I think the brace-faced, pre-teen who first watched it on VHS would see a different film than the baggy-eyed, daddy of today who’s been known to nap in his car during lunch. Let me explain:
“Sixteen Candles” at 16 (spoilers from here on out).
At 16 years old, “Sixteen Candles” is a fairy tale. The film perfectly captures in an earnest and honest way, what it feels like to be in high school. We’ve all sat in the shadows of the bleachers during a school dance feeling vulnerable or misunderstood. We’ve all felt the anxiety and exhilaration of saying “hi” to our own personal Jake Ryans. We’ve all paid money to see a pair of panties (or was that just me?).
And that’s what made Hughes such a visionary. His characters weren’t ideal. They were identifiable. He didn’t speak down to teenagers. He spoke their language. And he knew exactly what teenagers wanted: a Cinderella in Chuck Taylors. Yes, you could crash the greatest party ever. Yes, a normal girl just like you could wind up with a stud like Jake Ryan. Yes, a Geek could end up with the prom queen. “Sixteen Candles” was the high school of our wildest dreams.
Watching “Sixteen Candles” at 26 is all about nostalgia. Now you can look back at those years and laugh. What felt so important then is just plain embarrassing now. Forget the angst and acceptance. At 26, you would actually rather get your hair stuck in a door. It makes for a much better story. This is also about the time when you realize your Asian, partying role-model, Lon Duk Dong is a little bit racist. Okay, maybe more than a little bit.
“Sixteen Candles” at 36:
At 36, “Sixteen Candles” is a horror story. When you actually have a daughter of your own, all those high school hormones and bad decisions are terrifying. You also realize Jake Ryan is the absolute wrong choice for Sam. After all, this guy peaked in high school. The sensible choice? The Geek. He’ll grow up to be much more interesting, with a solid sense of humor and a humble attitude. Sure he’s “the king of the dip$#*ts” now, but when he’s older he’ll probably own property. Plus, he makes a fantastic martini.
I sometimes wonder how old my daughter will be when she watches “Sixteen Candles.” At 16 or 36, I hope she loves the film like I do. I think she will. And I hope she’s smart enough to not get hung up on a “Jake,” or settle for a “Geek,” but to find the right guy somewhere in between. And I really hope she’s patient enough to deal with her daddy, because, I swear, I’ll knife-fight any high-school punk who dares break my baby’s heart.
So this one’s dedicated to my daughter. Happy sweet sixteen in advance, boo-boo.
Just in case I forget.
“Sixteen Candles” screens on Wednesday, August 28th, at 7 and 10:00 p.m., at Ward Consolidated Theatres as part of the Hana Hou Picture Show.
“Sixteen Candles” nerd trivia:
• When the movie was released, both Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall were 16 years old.
• Michael Schoeffling (Jake) was 24 when the film was shot. Haviland Morris (Caroline) was 25. Gedde Watanabe (Long Duk Dong) was 28.
• At age eight, Justin Baker, who played Samantha’s little brother Mike, was (and still is) the youngest Oscar nominee in history for 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
• John Kapelos was in all three Hughes films at Universal. He was Rudy, Sam’s future brother in-law in “Sixteen Candles,” Carl the Janitor in “The Breakfast Club,” and Dino the bar guy in “Weird Science.”
• Ringwald was a regular cast member in the very first season of the TV show “The Facts of Life.”
• Gedde Watanabe, who was performing with the Shakespeare Festival before the film, went to the ‘Sixteen Candles’ audition in full character. The casting director was convinced he was from Korea until Watanabe finally told her he was actually born in Utah.
Movie posters courtesy of MVNP