SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984)
Over the years this picture has somehow managed to attain cult status as a prime example of teen comedy at its best. I watched it a second (and final) time a few days ago and it did nothing for me at all. In truth, I only watched the thing a second time because I have always been an admirer of Molly Ringwald and her work. The screenplay, ordinary as it is, was written by its director John Hughes, but it lacks the charm and class of his Ferris Bueller’s Day Off two years hence. Of course, Hughes has since achieved record-breaking notoriety for his Home Alone monster hit of 1990, but that film is not a ‘teen comedy’. It could be more accurately described as a ‘precocious little brat’ one. Obviously, I did not think much of Home Alone either. Remove the hilarious prat-falls and you are left with disrespectful, smart-mouthed Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) and little else.
The always watchable Molly Ringwald
But back to Sixteen Candles. Apart from the gorgeous Molly, just about every other player in Sixteen Candles is mediocre or worse. Michael Shoeffling, (looking more like Matt Dillon than Matt Dillon ever did) landed the role of the high school heart-throb, Jake Ryan, despite being all of twenty-three years old when filming began! If you are not familiar with the works of Mr. Shoeffling that is not overly surprising, given his screen career consisted of just eleven outings and was over by 1991. The then unknown Viggo Mortensen unsuccessfully auditioned for the role and greatly impressed fifteen year-old Molly. ‘I really wanted him’, she said later. ‘He made me weak in the knees. He really did.’
Haviland Morris & Anthony Michael Hall
Jake’s girlfriend in the film, Caroline, was played by twenty-four year old Haviland Morris, also supposedly a high school student. She did not want to do the shower scene because her character was said to have bigger breasts than the other girls and Haviland was well aware that that was simply not the case. Hughes had to substitute a body double for her. Haviland is a natural redhead by the way, but the director wanted Molly to be the only redhead in the movie so she was compelled to wear a blonde wig. After the appalling party scene (are American teenagers really such pigs?). Surely not. Caroline is blind drunk and unconscious. Jake tells Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) that she is ‘in the bedroom right now, passed out cold. I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to.’ He even encourages Ted to drive his girlfriend home, pretend he is Jake, and have his way with her. ‘She’s so blitzed she won’t know the difference’, he adds. Whichever way we look at this tasteless scenario, Jake appears to be condoning (even encouraging) date rape. Today, it would never be permitted, but in the eighties…well. Even so, the studio frantically edited out the ‘f-words’, to successfully avoid an R-rating, yet the censors seemed content to allow the depiction of underage binge drinking and underage shower scenes with naked girls.
‘I can’t believe I gave my panties to a geek!’ (Neither could I)
Speaking of Anthony Michael Hall, he was a favourite performer of Hughes’, although the lad’s appeal to both the director and movie audiences of the eighties utterly escapes me. I found his character to be way over the top and irritating beyond belief. How such a twit could ever appeal to a dolly like Molly is completely unbelievable and weakens an already weak story. He quite simply has nothing going for him. He is obnoxious, childish, a braggart, an exaggerator and as difficult to get rid of as acne! Yet Molly’s character is gradually attracted to him, to the point where she gives him her underwear so he can win a bet! Did she really think the rest of the school would not learn of this? Maybe, Anthony off-screen is more appealing than on it because, between this picture together and their next collaboration on Hughes’ The Breakfast Club the following year, they actually dated for a while.
Michael Shoeffling as Jake Ryan
This was the final film in which support player Max Showalter appeared. Max may well have been a delightful man in private life, for all I know, but on the screen he had a habit of making me cringe! Perhaps, it all stemmed from the first picture I saw him in – Niagara (1954) – in 1960, when I was a horny teenager. I was enamoured of Marilyn Monroe at the time and he seemed to take up far too much screen-time that might have been better occupied by MM. Or was it the characters he played? The guy smiled and laughed too much. So annoying. For reasons known only to him, Max usually performed under the name ‘Casey Adams’. Fans of Leave it to Beaver (1957) might be interested to learn that he was originally cast as Ward Cleaver in the pilot, but when the series was eventually sold it (mercifully) had Hugh Beaumont in the role.
Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong
Of the many things wrong with Sixteen Candles, one flaw stands out above all the others, in my opinion. An exchange student, sporting the unlikely name of Long Duk Dong, is portrayed by a twenty-eight year-old Japanese-American actor named Gedde Watanabe. Gedde hailed from Ogden, Utah and spoke perfect English, but for his audition he copied a Korean friend’s accent and secured the role. It could be convincingly argued that his portrayal of Mr. Dong did irreparable damage to the chances of Asian actors ever being taken seriously in American movies. It is that bad. There was even a gong sound-effect inserted post-production whenever his character appeared. Gedde’s performance in this movie is of similar appalling calibre as Mickey Rooney’s buck-toothed Japanese in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
Hughes seemed to form a kind of ‘terrible trio’ with Ms. Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, which in itself was odd, given he was in his thirties and they were both sixteen year-olds. Anthony made four movies with him and Molly made three. All this ended after The Breakfast Club when Hall turned down a role in his Pretty in Pink and Molly rejected two of his films, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful. The director/writer took their rejections very badly indeed and rarely spoke to either actor again for the rest of his life. He passed away at fifty-nine in 2009.