The special edition Blu-ray reissue of John Hughes’ 1984 directorial debut “Sixteen Candles” (Arrow Video/Universal) is arriving at a fascinating time in our culture.
More than 35 years after the movie’s theatrical (and subsequent VHS and DVD) release, many of the devices that Hughes instituted to get laughs — which were certainly taboo bordering on tasteless at the time — would be enough to get the movie boycotted, if it was opening in theaters or available via streaming. Homophobic, racist, sexist, ageist and all-around politically incorrect, “Sixteen Candles” could easily be relegated to the cancel bin. That said, there are just enough redeeming facets in this pre-Brat Pack coming of age comedy for it to deserve be seen, especially with our more sensitive and aware eyes.
Samantha (a pre-“Breakfast Club” Molly Ringwald) is about to have the best worst birthday of her 16 years. Falling as it does on the day before big sister Ginny’s (Blanche Baker, daughter of Carroll) wedding, Samantha’s hurt and disappointed that no one remembered. Not father Jim (Paul Dooley), mother Brenda (Carlin Glynn), kid brother Mike (a post-“Kramer Versus Kramer” Justin Henry) or little sister Sara (Cinnamon Idles). Even the visiting grandparents — Helen (Broadway diva Carole Cook), Fred (Max Showalter), Dorothy (Billie Bird) and Howard (Edward Andrews) — who never forget have forgotten.
But that’s the least of Samantha’s concerns. An anonymous student sex quiz, featuring revealing answers about who the respondent would want to “do it” with, accidentally gets into the wrong hands, namely those of her “beautiful and perfect” crush Jake (a hot, pre-“Longtime Companion” Michael Schoeffling). The only problem is that Jake is already going out with prom queen Caroline (Haviland Morris).
As if the wedding wasn’t enough of a distraction, grandma Dorothy and grandpa Howard have brought along an additional guest, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), the Asian exchange student who lives with them. On top of that, Samantha has to contend with unwanted attention from Ted aka the Geek (a pre-“Breakfast Club” Anthony Michael Hall), who is determined to be with her. The self-described “king of the dipshits” is the leader of his circle of nerdy friends which includes Bryce (John Cusack in his second movie).
We alternately cheer and squirm each time Jake and Samantha almost have an interaction. We want this to happen as much as they do. That’s what makes the movie such a guilty pleasure. Hughes also sets up some improbably social interactions, including a friendship between Jake and Ted, as well as the surprising turn of events between Ted and Caroline.
Half the fun of watching “Sixteen Candles” is also seeing future stars such as Joan Cusack (as Geek Girl #1) and Jami Gertz (as Caroline’s friend Robin) in early roles. Still, it’s hard to overlook some of the blatant stuff, such as the gong that is rung every time Dong appears on the screen. For a truly nostalgic, if occasionally nasty, experience, take a stroll down this bumpy memory lane. Plentiful special edition bonus content includes new interviews with cast and crew members.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.