John Hughes is one of the motivating elements of the 1980s that drove adolescence to the theatre, a man who finally understands the exaggerated angsts that run through a teenager’s mind, wrapping them around stories that resonates a warmth to a young spectator’s soul and leave a momentary feeling of hope that maybe their lives would be just as wonderful or as convenient as the stories we see come alive on screen.
Hughes taps into the truths of adolescent ambitions, the confusion, contradictory, simplicity of them all; it all seems so grand when dwelling in those ages, only to realise later on how petty and self-absorbed it all was. Sixteen Candles, his debut feature, is simply that; it follows a young girl, Samantha Baker, who is frustrated with her family due to their forgetfulness of her sixteenth birthday, heavily overshadowed by the eve of her older sister’s wedding, hence everyone is distracted. It is in the way she reacts to it all that makes her either an empathetic or unlikeable figure; in my previous viewing, I found her to be spoiled and selfish, creating a large fuss over such a moment. I understand that it is her sweet sixteen, a pinnacle and transitionary moment of a teenager, but it is in her anger and melancholy that I found myself distant towards her, hence leaving me constantly disappointed by its end.
In my recent viewing, however, my perspective for her have become more empathetic and its depiction of her reactions comes off as more honest than usual; it seems that enough time has passed between now and my teenage years that I have finally found a sense of nostalgia that evokes moments of reflection, realising the petty feelings that I carried when moments do not turn out as I hoped they would; sure, her condition stills feels a tad outrageous, but then that is what cinema is, a slight exaggeration of our honest emotions that creates moments of both empathy and escape. The characters themselves may be too familiar to be unique, but they are treated with enough respect and development that we are able to connect with them and be rewarded for our investment.
It was also recently that it became apparent to me how hilarious this film actually is, striking gold in the reactions of its characters. It was in the subtle moments of embarrassment, anxiety, and desperation that left me in consistent laughter, more so than I anticipated. Physical humour also carries a bright torch in many of its scenes, and for the most part it works as very rarely does it succumb to moments of loathing slapstick, at times infusing them with the three elements stated previously, which is always a plus in my book. Definitely the film remains overstepping its bounds with its depiction of Asians, much like what was found in Blake Edward’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but damn it I would be lying if I didn’t chuckle at some of the ridiculous antics he finds himself into.
Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall owes Hughes for elevating their careers, making them stars of a competitive era, showcasing their abilities to handle the weight of taking on a leading or a prominent supporting role. It was the both of them that made this film greater than it actually is, capturing the honesty of their depicted ages, them at the time not being too far from it; featuring excellent chemistry between one another, and this is including the key romantic interest for Ringwald’s character, Michael Schoeffling as Jake Ryan.
It is fair to say that Sixteen Candles is a coming-of-age classic, one that has remained strong with each passing generation, somehow able to find the empathetic elements in Samantha’s story, despite being a product of a bygone era; it is all because of Hughes’ remarkable writing, focusing on his ability to draw on the angsts of his pasts and put it on screen with a veneer of wildness and excitement for everyone to relish; making up for the messiness in Hughes’ amateurish direction.