Sixteen Candles (1984)
November 9, 2022 9:46 AM - Subscribe

With the occasion all but overshadowed by her sister's upcoming wedding, angst-ridden Samantha (Molly Ringwald) faces her 16th birthday with typical adolescent dread. Samantha pines for studly older boy Jake (Michael Schoeffling), but worries that her chastity will be a turnoff for the popular senior. Meanwhile, Samantha must constantly rebuff the affections of nerdy Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), the only boy in the school, unfortunately, who seems to take an interest in her.

Also starring Gedde Watanabe, John Cusack, Justin Henry, Haviland Morris, Joan Cusack, Brian Doyle-Murray, Jami Gertz, Zelda Rubinstein.

Written and directed by John Hughes.

81% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Starz. Also available for digital rental on multiple outlets. JustWatch listing.

Today, I'm going to post six movies that are problematic and/or made by/starring problematic people, but also either: have merit/are acclaimed; won some awards; are very popular; have a certain amount of cultural cachet. I'll be tagging these #problematicmovies.

It is essentially a cliché at this point for a Gen X-er to rewatch/recall this film and find themselves absolutely appalled by it. The "Long Duk Dong" character is shockingly racist. There's Anthony Michael Hall's boundary-overstepping pseudo-stalker Ted. There's panties as public trophy. There's Jake's comment "I've got Caroline in the bedroom right now, passed out cold. I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to." Even worse, there is Jake trading this unconscious girl for the panties. Holy shit, this did not age well at all.
posted by DirtyOldTown (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's probably telling that when choosing which John Hughes films to add to the "1001 movies before you die" lists, this is passed way over in favor of Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueler's Day Off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]

Interview with Gedde Watanabe including discussion of his feelings about the Long Duck Dong character.

You’ve heard a thousand times that Long Duk Dong is an offensive stereotype of a young Asian man who just arrived in this country, I’m sure.

Yes, and all I’ll say about that is that because there weren’t enough Asians onscreen, comedy was kind of looked down upon. I was not in the film business. I was studying theater in New York. It was my first movie and I had no idea what I was stepping into. I know that periphery is loosening. But because there were so few Asian actors onscreen at that time, people were looking for Kurosawa in a comedy and Sixteen Candles wasn’t that kind of movie.

posted by dnash at 10:19 AM on November 9 [3 favorites]

It is essentially a cliché at this point for a Gen X-er to rewatch/recall this film and find themselves absolutely appalled by it.

In rewatching childhood movies with the kids, my spouse and I have a category we call "80s PG" which is movies we blithely watched as unsupervised elementary schoolers that contain language or situations (and a surprising amount of nudity) that would get you a concerned note if you played it at your kids sleepover.
In general though, they are movies that you can still enjoy without thinking about it too much, they're just a window into how times change.

This one is not like that, this one makes you wonder "How was this ok" even back then?". You almost can't go 5 minutes without having that thought.

Despite all that, there is a good movie here.
Molly Ringwald's eye-rolling is almost a lead role in itself.
Anthony Micheal Hall manages to be the most earnest stalker you'd ever hope to have.
The final scene is remembered for a reason.

It's not the best John Hughes movie for sure, but I think it deserves to be remembered for helping usher in an age of moves where teens were considered people with feelings and thoughts and not just for its problematic moments.
posted by madajb at 10:30 AM on November 9 [6 favorites]

The final scene is remembered for a reason.

Yes, I was just gonna say, you can have whatever problems you have with various parts of this movie you want, but that bit at the end where the car drives off to reveal Jake standing there saying “Yeah, you” is gonna take my hopeless romantic breath away every single time.
posted by dnash at 10:47 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]

But because there were so few Asian actors onscreen at that time, people were looking for Kurosawa in a comedy and Sixteen Candles wasn’t that kind of movie.

That reminds me of the discussion that was repeated often on Pop Culture Happy Hour about Black Widow amongst other characters which is that when you have only one non- character, then people want that character to be so many things and it restricts what the character can be.

At the same time, I have a hard time ever picturing a character like Long Duk Dong as ever being in a movie and not coming off as horrifying.

posted by drewbage1847 at 11:20 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]

It is essentially a cliché at this point for a Gen X-er to rewatch/recall this film and find themselves absolutely appalled by it.

Even Molly Ringwald is appalled by it.
posted by orange swan at 11:33 AM on November 9 [5 favorites]

Problematic? Yep, in hindsight, there are indeed some problems.

But entertaining and funny? OMG, yes.

And the soundtrack - woohoo!
posted by davidmsc at 11:50 AM on November 9

Appallingly problematic for sure. I couldn't watch it now.

But I cannot begin to express how much these films resonated with Midwestern teens in the 80s. This was us. Every detail about the clothes (for richer kids at least), music, and slang was spot on.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:57 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]

I know the 80s are now reduced to a fun caricature that makes parts of this movie seem bizarrely cruel (and they are cruel) but anyone who was there back then knows it was really a time when cruelty was celebrated and it was open season on anyone out of the ordinary in even the slightest way. I can still watch Sixteen Candles fondly because it was about 2% as harsh as the reality of my suburban 80s high school.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:13 PM on November 9 [6 favorites]

Interview with Gedde Watanabe including discussion

Unfortunately, that link's broken.
posted by hanov3r at 12:46 PM on November 9

Unfortunately, that link's broken

I seem to be having trouble posting a link via iOS. Should be this:
posted by dnash at 1:20 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]

I've talked about this movie (and most of John Hughes' oeuvre) on the blue enough that I don't feel the need to rehash all that. Hughes probably thought that he was doing something special and good, but he was still the guy who did some of the awful stuff for National Lampoon that Molly Ringwald talks about in the article linked above. Hughes moved away from that sort of thing over the course of his career, but we're not talking about his entire career, we're talking about this movie.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:53 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]

I've brought this up before on the Blue but I'll be damned if I can find it. Anyway, yeah, it's racist. But when this film came out my wife and I had a side gig supervising exchange students. And everyone of them that saw this film saw Dong as a freaking superhero for his actions in that one night. In their eyes, Dong was a badass who took no prisoners and had the best night of his life. But wow, it is still really, really racist.
posted by Ber at 2:07 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]

I really enjoyed Lindy West’s recent rewatch. “Molly, please estrange all these monsters! Move to a big city, wait tables, meet some people who aren’t white, become gay, rent a cheap 2-bedroom, then go back and rescue Long Duk Dong FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.”
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:00 PM on November 9 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the link to Lindy West's post, skycrashesdown-- it was great and very funny. It sums up many of my feelings about the movie. I tried watching it on network TV around 1990, and I could barely watch 10 minutes of it. I found it absolutely repellent. The fact that the grandparents molesting their granddaughter was played for laughs grossed me out to no end.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:23 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]

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