A Geek, A Girl, A Guy, And Gedde Watanabe - Looking Back At Sixteen Candles
Clasic movie rave:
"I can't believe I gave my panties to a geek!" And so it goes for Molly Ringwald's character in Sixteen Candles. I've been revisiting this classic snapshot of '80s cinema from John Hughes, who, for a while, was the king of movies that centered on the daily frustrations, wiley scheming and oddities of life that are unique to the subgenre of humans known as teenagers.
Out of all of those films helmed by the inestimable John Hughes, I happen to like Sixteen Candles the best. The premise is simple: Samantha Baker's family forgets her 16th birthday during the hustle and bustle of preparing a wedding for her elder sister - doom, gloom, and high school hilarity ensue. Molly Ringwald is perfectly cast here as the frustrated and forgotten birthday girl. Samantha just wants a little recognition on her birthday. And hey, if she could just so happen to fall in love with Jake Ryan, the school's heartthrob, then all would be well in the world. Ringwald pouts, complains, cries, and generally gives a frustrated sheen to what could've been a very one dimensional persona. She's so good at being the forgotten-about misfit, that by films end you just have to cheer for her.
[Side note: It's strange how perfectly she embodied - almost eerily so - every character she played in a John Hughes film. It's even stranger how she hasn't really done anything worth a damn since then, either.]
Duh Duh Duhhhhh - Quippeth the Geek:
"Relax, would you? We have seventy dollars and a pair of girls underpants. We're safe as kittens."
Michael Anthony Hall practically steals the show with his larger than life portrayal of Farmer Ted/The Geek. He lambastes, admonishes, and finger-points at his friends, all the while oozing misplaced confidence in his abilities as a "dude." Farmer Ted seems to have a minor crush on Samantha but somewhere in between his awkward attemps to win her over he becomes her confidante and friend. He's very funny and engaging throughout the movie, but it's towards the end when Farmer Ted begins to shine. The latter third of the movie when Farmer Ted is assuming responsibility for taking a very drunk Caroline (a perfectly cliched prom queen) home is especially funny - whether he's wondering about the cost of the Rolls Royce he's driving (despite not knowing how to drive), the size of Jake's dad (owner of said Rolls Royce), spitting out birth control pills (fed to him by Caroline), or getting his picture taken with Caroline by his geeky buds (Darren Harris & a very comically subtle, John Cusack), he commands your attention and delivers the laughs.
[Side note: strangely, Michael Anthony Hall's fortunes have pretty much mirrored Molly Ringwald's history. After Weird Science and The Breakfast Club, Hall was mostly done as a big-time actor. There were other movies and a stint on SNL, but nothing's really panned out for him since the '80s.]
Enter The Dragon... or, Asian stereotyping for comedic effect:
"What's a happenin', hotstuff?" So sayeth Gedde Watanabe, otherwise known as Long Duck Dong, in his entrance into Samantha Baker's life. There's nothing subtle about Watanabe's performance here, it's an over-the-top pantomime of every Asian stereotype that's ever been played for laughs. Whether referring to himself in the third person as "The Donger" while hookin' up with Marlene in between start/stop "Engrish"-based (as the kids so charmingly refer to it these days) skits - Dong: "She getting mallied." Jake: "Married?" Dong: "Mallied, sheesh." - he's side-splittingly funny, even if it'd be considered a very un-politically correct performance by today's standards. Perhaps this one bit from Samantha's little brother pretty much sums it up: "What the hell are you bitchin' about? I gotta sleep under some Chinaman named after a duck's dork." Easy caricature for John Hughes? Sure. But considering that the film skewers and caricatures everybody else involved regardless of social status, it never comes across as mean-spirited. [Side note: Watanabe has since starred in various movies and TV shows, but mostly as a bit actor. Certainly nothing as memorable as his role of The Donger. Again, similar to the career arcs of Ringwald and Anthony Hall]
"I want a serious girlfriend. Somebody I can love, that's gonna love me back. Is that psycho?" And last but not least, we come to Jake Ryan. The handsome high school heartthrob who rejects the natural order of things and brings hope to semi-geeky, underdeveloped girls everywhere. Michael Schoeffling, was almost picture-perfect in a role that has spawned something of a fantasy standard for what the ideal boyfriend is supposed to be. Think I'm joking? Read on and think again:
Jake Ryan, Jake Ryan, Jake Ryan. Write his name in loopy cursive on a piece of loose-leaf notebook paper and pass it on. Even though it has been two decades since the release of John Hughes's high school comedy "Sixteen Candles," there are women out there in their late-twenties to mid-thirties (and even younger, including teenage girls today who weren't even around in that era) who to this day are still pining for a fictional character, the perfect high school crush.
"Jake Ryan? He's only the most popular boy in school," goes a line from the movie. The simple utterance of his name is enough to add salt to the wound of Valentine's Day.
"He's the whole package," says Andrea Danyo, 28, who does public relations work for National Public Radio. "Even just the name has become something. I swoon when I hear it. . . . For just about all of my friends, 'Jake Ryan' is a given moniker for the ideal boy, as in, 'Yeah, it was a good date, but he's clearly no Jake Ryan.' "
Women who fell hard for Jake Ryan have for years secretly harbored the idea of the one true and perfect boyfriend who (through some Hollywood miracle we're never quite made to understand) notices the freckly, insecure wallflower Samantha Baker, played by Molly Ringwald, whose family has forgotten her 16th birthday. Ringwald stands in for Everygirl, who, on some subconscious level, hated being a teenager.
Who knew? I didn't. Girls did, and still do, pick up on a different set of vibes from this exercise in teen thermodynamics. This image of Jake being held up as an ideal mate twenty years after the film was released is a bit mind-boggling. [Side note: Also a bit mind-boggling is the fact that Schoeffling, like Ringwald, Anthony Hall, and Watanabe, never really capitalized on the sucess of his character or of the popularity of the movie. According to the blockquote above, he's now making furniture in Pennsylvania].
I don't know what hand of fate that the cast of this movie offended, but for whatever reason, long-term stardom apparently wasn't part of fate's game plan for them. But that's okay, the movie remains a stone-cold classic. And in the end that's all that really matters.
Sound, picture and other misc. DVD specs:
1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. DTS 5.1 Surround.
The film looks good, no question about it. Not as sharp as today's releases but overall it's fine. While it's good to have this film redone in 5.1 Surround, the results are less than impressive. While the clarity of the dialogue is fine and the musical soundtrack is beefy, the back surrounds rarely come into play. Granted, this isn't an action flick with tons of whiz bang special effects to run rings around your home theatre set-up, but still, a little life in the back speakers would've been nice. Those are minor quibbles, though. This flick can picked up for about ten bucks almost anywhere and it's ten dollars well spent for a look at one of the most enduring genre flicks to emerge from the '80s.
Hoping for more candles on the birthday cake?
Well, you may be in luck, there's talk from Ringwald that there may be a sequel.