Today is the sixteenth birthday of Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), and as she gets up in the morning she laments that she may be a year older, but still feels as if she is fifteen. Actually, as far as her family are concerned she may as well be, for when she emerges from her bedroom ready for school she begins to wonder if they will take their attention away from the wedding of her sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) which takes place tomorrow and place it squarely on her - it's meant to be her special day, after all. But as they all troop out of the front door, one thing becomes clear: they've completely forgotten.
So began writer and director John Hughes' domination of the American teen movie scene for the rest of the eighties, for Sixteen Candles may not have been the slickest of those efforts, but it was a statement of intent that he was going to take the teens' problems seriously, present them onscreen in a manner they would like to see themselves, and add in a hefty dose of smartass humour to help it all go down smoother. Whereas his later efforts like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club may have been more crowdpleasing, in this instance there was a rough and ready air to the proceedings, as if Hughes was finding his feet, with the result that this remained the cultiest of those works.
There are still those who have a problem with this, and much of that was down to the director's trademark "seems outrageous but is actually very conservative" sense of humour, honed during his days at the National Lampoon. So among the things his characters must negotiate are a bizarre racial stereotype named Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) who is supposed to be a Chinese exchange student but is accompanied by the sound of a Japanese gong wherever he goes: this for many is the best (or worst) reason for modern audience to roll their eyes and say, "The eighties - what the hell were they thinking?", though there were other aspects with which to take offence should you be of a mind to.
Not least a young, deeply uncool teen named The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) taking sexual advantage of a drunken older student played for laughs, and then with some cheek, pathos for the last act. The Geek is actually harbouring a crush on Samantha who he badgers throughout, one of a number of personal disasters which befalls her following the family's ignorance of her birthday, which Ringwald reacts to with exactly the same look of adolescent disdain - disbelief in the eyes, curled lip - every time she suffers an indignity. You can see why she became popular, as she embodied the Hughes character in a manner that already by this stage was for many iconic, though a strange thing happens to her around halfway through her movie which either ironic or appropriate.
This is after a good deal of the plot has built up Samantha as someone who deserves the attention she isn't getting, then tantalises her with the promise of the boy of her dreams, Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) noticing her which comes to a head at the school dance that evening when The Geek tells her Jake might well be more taken with her than the apparently perfect girlfriend (Haviland Morris) he is meant to be with. But then Hughes seemed to have thought well, that'll do for Samantha and was distracted by the other people he had invented, specifically the Geek whose misadventures dominated the remaining movie, as well as Ginny who proves a scene-stealing turn for Baker as she takes too many muscle relaxants to deal with her cramps on her wedding day and ends up lolling stoned all the way to the altar and back. That Hughes had been informing us Samantha was worthy of the attention nobody but her fanboy was giving her then turned his back on her wasn't quite right somehow, but Hall benefitted hugely. Music by Ira Newborn.