MAYBE LATE LAST NIGHT as you were cramming for this morning's exam, there was a brief instant when you wished that you were back in high school. Back where the only thing you worried about on Thursday night was what you were going to do Friday night.
After watching director-writor John Hughes' new movie Sixteen Candles, you might want to think twice.
The film begins on Samantha Baker's (Molly Ringwald) sixteenth birthday, but soon shows that turning sixteen is not "sweet," adolescence not as idyllic as it seems in retrospect. The film is packed with the special pains of the age--embarassing crushes, parents who never fail to miss the point, and a perpetual crisis of self-confidence Sixteen Candles is also filled with the familiar cast of characters, however, Hughes explores the stereotypical "geek," "studly guy" and "awkward freshman" with little of the predictability that characterizes most films about adolescence. Hughes instead captures these awkward years with a rare blend of seriousness and humor.
In the opening scenes, Samantha awakes on her birthday. Instead of the usual birthday bounty, however, Samantha finds that her brother Mike (Justin Henry of Kramer vs Kramerfame) has locked her out of the bathroom and her mother (Carlin Glynn) has forgotten both her daughter's lunch and her daughter's birthday. What's more, Samantha doesn't feel quite as different as she'd like; as she looks in the mirror at her angular form she says disappointedly, "I look exactly the same as I have since summer, utterly forgettable."
At school, she gazes adoringly at senior named Jake (Michael Schoeiffling), but only gets attention from a fellow freshman known as the "Geek" (Anthony Michael Hall). The day progresses steadily downhill as Samantha returns home to find her grandparents have moved into her room for her sister's wedding. Finally, her family insists that she take a visiting exchange student to a school dance. Probably not the best birthday on record.
Such a story could get tiresome, but Hughes handles the material with an appropriately light touch. His deft comic touches includes inserting clips from the "Twilight Zone" soundtrack during some of Samantha's more trying moments.
While Hughes usually succeeds in his comic effect, there are moments that amount to nothing more than bad taste. Examples include a young woman with a back brace who is constantly tripping or drenching her face in water fountains, and the Asian exchange student whose name--Long Duck Dong--alone should demonstrate the racist stereotyping of his character. Equally cardboard is Jake's beautiful but shallow girlfriend, who tells Jake: "I fantasize that I'm your wife and we're like the richest, most popular adults in town."
The plot follows the expected twists and turns, with only limited credibility. Why, for example, does Jake take such a sudden, and almost obsessive, interest in the freshman Samantha' It's certainly not the way most sixteen year olds are likely to tell it.
Hughes offers adolescents some comforting and perhaps idyllic solutions to their situation. At a time when perfection and popularity are desirable but seemingly impossible goals, Hughes tells the high school set that there are other, more important rules to the game and that nice kids really can win. You've heard it all before from your mother.