Sunday, 21 June 2009

John Hughes: The Brat Pack films that defined an era Part Two: Sixteen Candles

Sixteen Candles ushered in the age of the 80s Brat pack film for real. There has been other films that had almost managed to do the same, such as Fast Times as Ridgemont High, but it was this decidedly disjointed film that caught the imagination of a certain generation and heralded a glut of similar films, none of which matched the Hughes pack.

This is the film that made Molly Ringwald the 80s starlet that she was, as well as serving up some very politically incorrect lines (mainly aimed at exchange student Long Duk Dong) and a veritable Time Capsule of 80s-a-rama. All of the staples of 80s teen films are present and correct, nerds, jocks, the ubiquitous prom queen, they're all there, but Sixteen Candles isn't ripping anything off- it is pretty much the starting point for what came after.

It's funny and warm, but not as great as what would come straight after it (The Breakfast Club). The film feels a little too chaotic for its own good, which is why I hold it slightly lower esteem than the others. You can certainly see what the intention was, but ultimately the film is too busy and cluttered.

The plot follows Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) on her sixteenth birthday, an event which her whole family appear to have completely forgotten about. Mix in a lovestruck nerd (Anthony Michael Hall) and a chisel-jawed hunk (Michael Schoeffling), various misfit teens and a syrupy ending, and you have the ingredients of an 80s superhit. It'd good in episodic chunks, but as a whole it leaves you a little cold, and while the in-jokes and Hughes humour are there, they haven't quite matured enough to offer something truly special.

I think it's the ending that I never really got on with. I do love the film but the happy ending feels either tacked-on as an afterthought or something of a damp squib. The John Hughes Brat Pack movies all contain elements that were evident in Sixteen Candles, but used in a more refined manner. Fun, but ultimately unsatisfying.

That said, it is a great snapshot of 80s teen life and culture. The fashions, the music, the hobbies, the preoccupations are all true to the era, which is a big draw of these films now. Sixteen Candles is an interesting look at a bygone era, but little more than a curiosity now, and doesn't really give any clue as to the genre-defining film that would follow it a year later.

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