“Sixteen Candles”: It’s problematic, but there’s still a lot for teens to love

Molly Ringwald, John Hughes, and Michael Schoeffling (left to right). Ringwald and Schoeffling acted as Samantha Baker and Jake Ryan respectively in the film which was directed by Hughes.

Credit: MacQ

Molly Ringwald, John Hughes, and Michael Schoeffling (left to right). Ringwald and Schoeffling acted as Samantha Baker and Jake Ryan respectively in the film which was directed by Hughes.

Lucie Russell, Instagram Team

It’s another summer night during the pandemic and yet again your mom is suggesting that you watch a movie from the good old days when she was a teenager. You’re tempted to say no, but you have nothing better to do. This is how I started exploring the world of film, specifically those from the 1980’s to the 2000’s.

One of these films was “Sixteen Candles,” released in theaters on May 4th, 1984, was directed by John Hughes. He wrote, directed and produced 35 movies during his career. According to Wikipedia, most of Hughes’ movies took place on the North Shore of Chicago, Illinois. However, he is most known for 6 movies he wrote in the mid 1980’s, four of which he directed. They are “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty In Pink” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.”

According to The Telegraph, “No film-maker has ever spoken to teenagers with more compassion than the late John Hughes.”

In “Sixteen Candles,” sophomore Samantha Baker, played by Molly Ringwald, is having a 16th birthday that her parents forget because of her older sister’s wedding. Sam is very different from most of her family, however, she’s very close to her dad, played by actor Paul Dooley.

From the beginning of the film it is made obvious that Sam has a crush on a senior, Jake Ryan, played by Michael Schoeffling, but she assumes he doesn’t know that she exists. Jake is tired of his girlfriend and his popular friends, who enjoy partying and getting into trouble; he is interested in something more serious, including Sam, who is not in the popular crowd. When Jake goes to a party with his friends, he realizes that he’s not interested in that group anymore. Sam’s family never remembers her birthday, but at the end of her sister’s wedding Jake Ryan shows up in his Porsche and they leave together. Then comes the iconic “Sixteen Candles” scene, where Sam and Jake celebrate with cake and kiss while seated on the dining room table.

Although, according to The Telegraph, John Hughes is known for “articulating what it meant to be teenage more acutely than any single writer or director had done before or has since,”
when looking at the movie through today’s lens, parts of it are problematic. Because the movie takes place in a white suburb of Chicago, the only person who is not white is the character Long Duk Dong played by Gedde Watanabe. This character is portrayed as a crazy Asian exchange student through stereotypes and mocking Asian culture.

There are also no characters represented that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Because the movie was made in the 80’s, teenagers were less likely to come out which may explain this absence.

Another problematic scene in the movie is when Jake Ryan’s former girlfriend Caroline, played by Haviland Morris, is drunk and handed off to freshman, “Farmer Ted,” played by Anthony Micheal Hall and wakes up in a car with him not recalling what happened the night before. It’s implied that they’ve had sex and Caroline seems perfectly happy about it. This scene is hard to take because today this would come across as implied sexual assault.

The movie is beloved by many who grew up in the 80’s because anyone who has been a teenager can relate to it. However, nowadays it’s hard to ignore how problematic it is, with the mocking of people of different cultures, lack of diversity and disregard of sexual assaul. Overall, I would still recommend the movie because it’s relatable to teens, and it shows how much teen culture has changed and evolved.