Flashback Friday: “Sixteen Candles” Is a Very Bad Film

The original review from May 1984

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Every Friday, we are publishing some truly classic archival content in honor of our ’80s-themed July issue. We may have included Sixteen Candles, a John Hughes classic, in our film series going on now at ArcLight Hollywood, but back in 1984, Merrill Schindler wasn’t as taken with the piece of teen cinema. Read for yourself below. 

Sixteen Candles is a very bad film made all the worse because it was made by people who think they’ve come up with a very good one. Though I’m no fan of Porky’s, Porky’s II, Police Academy, or any of the other gross-out comedies that have been flushed from some cinematic sewer in the past few years, to their credit, they at least never aspired to be anything vaguely resembling art. The people who made them knew they were creating exploitation pictures and, like Roger Corman, made films that had nothing at all to do with high-minded intentions.

But John Hughes, the man who wrote and directed Sixteen Candles, seems to think he’s got a serious film here about teenagers. And the resultant claptrap he’s thrown around just reeks of self-righteousness, false emotions, and jokes in which we’re supposed to find real meaning. Instead, there’s nary a chuckle to be found. I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into my seat, bombarded by some of the flattest humor to hit the screen in decades.

The film itself is like Animal House in slow motion—a quasi comedy that’s devoid of wit or redemptive comic timing, a garbage dump filled with half-used gags, with jokes that begin and then peter out to nothing. Like the Chinese exchange student named Long Duck Dong who’s pursued by  an overendowed lady athlete. Or the central premise of the film, which is that Molly Ringwald’s family has completely forgotten her 16th birthday. Pardon me for asking for just a semblance of reality, but isn’t it reasonable that Ringwald might point out to her mother that it’s her birthday? But no, the film just stumbles along, built into an unsteady house of cards.

What Sixteen Candles proves is that Molly Ringwald has a very appealing presence. But not enough to keep this lead ballon afloat. Sixteen Candles sets the aesthetic quality of teenage movies back far more than 16 years.

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