"...Sixteen Candles understands kids better than most
movies do--it treats their romance with great gentleness and wit..."
Sixteen Candles, the new teen dating comedy, is an odd
brutality and tenderness. Screenwriter John Hughes, directing for the
first time, shoves his minor characters around as if they were dirty trays
in a cafeteria; he revels in the kind of crude obviousness that kids often
love precisely because it's so insistenly dumb. Yet Hughes has created a
lovely herione, Samantha (Molly Ringwald), and her treats her as
delicately as he might a princess opening her first ball. His affection
for her redeems the picture.
Samantha, a high-school sophomore in the Midwest, has turned sixteen,
no one has noticed--her entire family is preoccupied with her older
sister's impending marriage. Meanwhile, at school, she's developed a crush
on Jake, a dark-eyed dreamboat in the senior class. But of course Jake
(Mike Schoeffling) is going out with a blonde prom queen. He has seen
Samantha looking at him, and he's longing to break up with his sulky,
self-centered girlfriend, but Samantha, abashed and unsure of herself,
can't imagine that he might be interested in her. How could she?
She's spending all her time fighting off a skinny freshman with braces--a
brilliant, infuriating nonstop talker and con artist called the Geek
(Anthony Michael Hall). A pretty girl turning sixteen is not about to go
out with the Geek.
Most teenagers are convinced that adults never understand what's
to kids. But the adults who made Sixteen Candles understand better
than most. The movie says that though Samantha's problems may not mean
much in the long run they mean a great deal at that moment. Unless she
receives some attention from the guy she's crazy about, she's going to be
depressed for months, and the movie, solicitous as an anxious daddy,
asserts that she's too fine, too good--too unselfish and true--to suffer
Molly Ringwald, a charming sixteen-year-old actress with a "crushed"
lip and a freckled nose, is one of the few kids whose trivial problems we
might care about. When she rolls her eyes in dismay at some noise
goofballs harassing her on the school bus, or pouts when her grandparents
show up (she's bored in advance by the fuss they'll make over her), she
creates so much intimacy with the camera that we don't think of her as a
spoiled little bitch--we think how we might be annoyed by these things,
too. Molly Ringwald (first seen in Paul Mazursky's Tempest) has a
quality of radiant sanity. Her Samantha, talking to herself, makes fun of
her own misfortunes even as she falls deeper into misery.
John Hughes, who wrote two of last summer's comedy hits (Mr.
and National Lampoon's Vacation), knows that high-school romance is
largely a matter of kids trying to act out a certain image of themselves.
The handsome, athletic Jake is actually a little dumb, but Jake, who has
the right moves, doesn't have to be clever to come out on top. He can play
Mr. Cool, saying little, and the other kids will revere him--he can
sustain his style.
Hughes must know that it's hard for the audience to care deeply about
Jakes of this world--natural winners--so he makes the Geek the surprise
hero. The blond, clown-faced shrimp Anthony Michael Hall has a nervous,
high-torque delivery; he spins out the new teen computer/video jargon so
quickly he seems to have been hatched by Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man. The Geek is
the kind of demoniacally inventive kid who reaches his peak of audacity
and artistry in high school. Like all such kids, he has followers--two
gangly, nearly mute collections of elbows, knees, and shiny orthodontia
who travel around school wearing more electronic gear on their heads than
the astronauts. These two boys are classic high-school dorks in new
outfits: Electronic-age wallflowers, they watch the girls at a school
dance through some sort of infrared scope; they're always photographing
something, always taping, broadcasting, duping. They're so busy running
words and images around the circuits they don't ever have to speak to
For the moment, the Geek's main purpose in life is to convince these
that he's a stud. In a gesture of sublime generosity, Samantha lends him
her panties so he can pretend to his friends that he's scored with her; he
repays the favor by no longer pestering her and by doing his best to bring
her together with Jake. John Hughes treats the central romantic situation
with great gentleness and wit--it's only everything else in the movie
that's trash. Working in a market that rewards gross-out humor, Hughes
loses his artistic nerve and piles on the cheap laughs. There's the randy
Chinese exchange student, picturesquely named Long Duk Dong, who topples
onto large-breasted girls; there's the usual slobby teen party, with the
pizza left spinning on the record turntable and soused adolescents strewn
among the beer cans. Yet amid the joshing and jeering, the low comedy and
mess, there are also intimations of the way bright, sensitive kids might
connect with one another. Watching Sixteen Candles is like finding
a couple of cans of champagne in a six-pack of Schlitz.