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Sixteen Candles: Something For Everyone

Nicola Scott
June 11, 2000

John Hughes' Sixteen Candles is probably the best teen film ever made. To some people, this may not sound like much of an accomplishment, since most of the films in the teen genre do not attempt to cater to the most intellectual crowd around. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that teens aren't smart, but most of the films made for them are anything but smart, and they don't really offer anything to their audience except for some mindless entertainment. There are some films, however, targeted primarily at teens, that are both funny and clever. Films like Heathers, The Breakfast Club, and Clueless have become classic films, able to be entertaining to more than just a teen audience. Hughes' Sixteen Candles is in the same class as these movies, only even worthier of praise.
Part of what makes Sixteen Candles work is the fact that the film's protagonist is a very believable character. Samantha Baker is an awkward, moody teenager, who has a love/hate relationship with her family and is in love with a boy who seems completely unattainable. This realistic portrayal of adolescence sets the film apart from many others in its genre because Samantha is nothing like the one-dimensional teen characters found in many films. The way Hughes portrays adolescence makes it easy for the audience to relate to Samantha's plight. Just about all of us have been embarrassed by our parents at one time or another, after all. And who out there, no matter how old you are, hasn't had a helpless crush on the "perfect" boy or girl?
It is important to note that for all its realism, Sixteen Candles has just as much, if not more, silliness in its plot. This silliness is greatly due to the character Long Duk Dong, the Chinese foreign exchange student. Everything about Dong is funny, from his name to the clothes he wears. While Dong is the butt of many politically incorrect jokes in the film, these jokes are funny and timeless despite being stereotypical. Long Duk Dong offers the audience a character who was written for the sole purpose of getting a laugh out of the audience. When "The Donger" is on the screen, you know something funny is about to happen.
Like Long Duk Dong, Farmer Ted is a character whose presence in a scene is synonymous with outrageous silliness. Unlike Dong, though, Farmer Ted's role is one of the most important in the film because he is somewhat responsible for getting Samantha and her dream guy, Jake, together. Yes, Ted is the obligatory geek, a character found in most teen films. However, Ted is different than most other geeks because, like Samantha, he is a well rounded character. There's more to Ted than just geekyness. He's also a very funny, and at times, pretty cool guy. Unlike the geeks in many other teen films, the members of the audience find themselves caring about Ted and his blatant efforts to be perceived as cool.
Though sometimes overshadowed by hilarious characters like Long Duk Dong and Farmer Ted, Hughes never lets viewers forget about the central tension of the film, Samantha's anger toward her family and her desire of Jake Ryan. Samantha easily becomes a likable protagonist for a wide audience because you can't help but feel sorry for her. This and the fact that extremely funny characters and situations are sprinkled into the central plot line only make Sixteen Candles more enjoyable.
Even though Sixteen Candles is over fifteen years old, the film still has something to offer almost every type of viewer. The music and clothing may date the movie, but the plot remains funny and sweet and the characters remain likable. New teen films continue to be made, but they all seem to fall short in comparison to Sixteen Candles. Yes, the film is a bit goofy and far-fetched. Would parents really forget their daughter's sixteenth birthday? Would a geek really "bag" the prom queen? Would a wedding like that really take place? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

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