Available on Blu-ray Mon 22 Jul 2019.
Back in 1958 when the doo-wop ’16 Candles’ (an egregious pop ditty) went to number four in the American charts, the kids were watching their idol Edd “Kookie” Byrnes on TV’s detective show 77 Sunset Strip. Aside from the greasy, Elvis-inspired DA Kookie was always combing, his other claim to fame was his hip jive-talk: “ginchiest” was coolest; “smog in the noggin” was not thinking straight; “heels on fire” was in a hurry. By the mid-1960s most of this lingo was hopelessly dated – suddenly everything’s groovy.
The slang in this 1980s teen rom-com, (now 35 years old) doesn’t seem outdated at all, so “chill out, dude!” The women’s fashions show their age – big hair and puffball skirts. And the humour has also dated – badly! Maybe only a cohort of fifty-somethings who grew up with Sixteen Candles and movies like it – compare the longevity of Dirty Dancing – could truly love it.
We are in comfortable, American suburbia in a boisterous Chicagoland household where the eldest daughter is about to be married and her younger sister Samantha (Molly Ringwald) has her 16th birthday ruined. In the hubbub of wedding prep mom and pop have forgotten about the sweet sixteen-year-old. The success for a good teen birthday it seems is low expectations. To drown her sorrows, Samantha goes to the high school dance where she moons over the best boy Jake (Michael Shoeffling) tall, dark, handsome, and rich. What more could a girl want? Sadly the school geek Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) latches onto her. But, boy, how Ted talks. There’s a meeting of minds, of sorts and the geek engineers and invite to Jake’s parents-out-of-town party. Scales are lifted from Jake’s eyes and suddenly for he and Samantha luv is all around.
This weak plot is pebble-dashed with jokes and gags – many of which are as flat as day-old Dr Pepper. References to date rape seem particularly misplaced to modern eyes and there’s a Chinese exchange student who is the butt of any number of squirm-inducing jokes. Today’s techno-dextrous sixteen-year-olds will view this rom-com (wrong-com, more like) with utter bafflement, like a dyslexic unravelling cuneiform. For the rest of us it’s a trip down a memory lane of high school horrors – low-level attention seeking, casual bullying, fragile self-esteem, the shame of being a wallflower on prom night. John Hughes went on to write better comedies like Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And a host of movies from Clueless to Mean Girls has covered this territory since, mostly with far more wit and style. But Sixteen Candles attempted to do it first. A sequence where Samantha gets spot-on dad advice should be required watching for every father with teenage daughters.
A saving grace of the film is its to-die-for soundtrack of 80s classics from the likes of Wham!, Spandau Ballet, Altered Images, Patti Smith, Thompson Twins and the like. The 50s title song is given a rockabilly makeover by the Stray Cats, clearly with an eye to soundtrack sales on the new-fangled CD (remember them?). The soundtrack at least is, as Kookie Byrnes would say, the ginchiest.