Sixteen Candles, 1984.
Directed by John Hughes.
Starring Molly Ringwald, Paul Dooley, Anthony Michael Hall, Justin Henry, Gedde Watanabe, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, and Michael Schoeffling.
Sixteen Candles has been released on home video a bunch of times, including a pair of Blu-rays from Universal, but this new Blu-ray from Arrow is packed with new bonus features, along with a booklet and a new 4K transfer. It’s a must-buy for fans of the film.
A funny thing happened to my fellow Gen Xers and I: the world moved on without us. Revisiting Sixteen Candles, I can suddenly see the things that I took for granted growing up in a world that was full of fellow WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants), a world in which minorities were mostly stereotypes who occupied the background. Movies and TV shows mostly reflected my world, too. (I have to assume this was also the case for director John Hughes, a boomer who grew up in the Midwest.)
And, yes, there’s plenty of sexism too, including that uncomfortable scene in which Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) gets to have sex with a blacked-out Caroline (Haviland Morris). As a dad with a daughter, and as a husband with a wife who’s also a Gen Xer, it’s a difficult scene to watch today, and both of those family members agree with me.
I know, Sixteen Candles is a product of its time, and those of us parents who are sensitive to these kinds of things can talk to our kids and educate them about that date rape scene, the same way we can educate them to the racist insensitivities of the way the film handles its only Asian character, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe).
This is a film closing in on its thirtieth anniversary, so I assume you probably know the basic plot, but just in case: Molly Ringwald, in her breakout role, plays Sam, a typical teenage girl whose sixteenth birthday is overshadowed by her sister’s wedding happening the next day. In fact, Sam’s parents seem to have forgotten about her birthday, and to make matters worse, she has a crush on a senior, Jake (Michael Schoeffling), who doesn’t seem to know she exists.
I know, first world middle class problems, right? Continuing: the aforementioned Ted is hot for Sam and tries to get pervy with her, but she has no interest in him. In addition, Long Duk Dong is an exchange student staying at her house, and her grandparents, who have also forgotten about her birthday, want her to go to the dance that night with him. How can Sam ditch Ted and Long and make a connection with Jake, all while dealing with the fact that her family seems to have forgotten her sixteenth birthday? (In the US at least, sixteenth birthdays are a big deal for teenage girls.)
The rest of the story involves the kind of middle class American teenage hijinks that were prevalent in not only Hughes’ teen movies but also many 80s films too. As a fellow teenager also growing up in white middle class suburbia, it was all very relatable and non-threatening to me, as it was to many fellow filmgoers who turned these films into hits.
But that’s not to say I’m trashing this movie. It has its merits, including a young cast that also included John and Joan Cusack. Hughes had a knack for picking the right young budding stars for his films, and that talent was on full display in Sixteen Candles, which was his directorial debut. He passed away in 2009 – it would be interesting to hear what he might say about his movies today, in light of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements.
And to be fair, many of the relationship dynamics at play here are likely relatable to millenials and Gen Zers too. If anything, the 80s feel quaint compared to today’s complicated world of smartphones and social media apps that can destroy a young person’s reputation faster and more thoroughly than nasty whispers could back then. So in that sense, it’s a movie worth revisiting, especially for the sweet moments that pepper the story, including its final scene.
If you’re interested in further visiting the issues I brought up in this review, you should turn to A Very Eighties Fairytale, a new bonus feature that’s a visual essay by Saraya Roberts. She looks at the film from a contemporary feminist perspective and gives it a well-rounded perspective, giving Hughes credit where it’s due, such as by making his female characters more independent, but also noting that he brought a culturally conservative 80s lens to the story. It’s interesting to note that Hughes says he actually connected more with Sam than the other characters.
This new Blu-ray edition from Arrow also sports a big pile of other new bonus features, along with a new 4K transfer that’s markedly improved from the version that Universal has twice issued on Blu-ray. The disc includes two versions of the film, the theatrical and an extended version that includes one extra scene you can also view in the bonus features section.
You can also watch the theatrical version with an alternate soundtrack that was prevalent on past VHS and laserdisc editions of the film. It features different music, due to an inability to clear the rights for certain songs back then. I guess since so much 80s pop music now takes a back seat to modern tunes, it’s easier to get the rights to the original songs and keep them. I wouldn’t be surprised if bands like The Thompson Twins and Tears for Fears make more money off home video releases of John Hughes movies than anything else these days.
This is my first copy of Sixteen Candles on home video, so I don’t know what’s missing in the bonus features from past editions, but I do know that the image galleries and trailers found here were ported over, as was the 38-minute featurette, Celebrating Sixteen Candles. Dating from a 2008 DVD edition, Celebrating features much of the cast and crew looking back on the making of the film. It’s about a comprehensive making-of as you can get for this movie, as far as I know.
Here’s the new stuff:
- Casting Sixteen Candles (9 minutes): Casting director Jackie Burch talks about the movie’s serendipitous casting. She doesn’t appear onscreen – clips and photos play while she talks.
- When Gedde Met Deborah with Gedde Watanabe and Deborah Pollack (19 minutes): Pollack played Marlene, a tall, athletic teenager who strikes up an unlikely romance with Watanabe’s character. The pair look back on their roles here.
- Rudy the Bohunk with John Kapelos (6.5 minutes): Kapelos talks about playing his character, Rudy, an “oily bohunk” who’s going to marry Sam’s sister.
- The New Wave Nerd with Adam Rifkin (8 minutes): Rifkin, who went on to become a filmmaker, was an extra in Sixteen Candles and shadowed Hughes while the director worked. He looks back on that formative experience.
- The In-Between with Gary Kibbe (7.5 minutes): Kibbe was a camera operator who also looks back on his time on-set.
- Music for Geeks with Ira Newborn (8 minutes): This was composer Ira Newborn’s first time working with Hughes, and he talks about how that relationship developed.
Criterion tends to be the go-to these days for Blu-rays of classic movies that feature improved video and plenty of new bonus features, but Arrow has been no slouch in that department either, and this new Sixteen Candles release demonstrates that. It’s certainly a must-buy for fans.
This edition also includes a booklet, but since I was sent a pre-production disc, I can’t comment on it.
A final note: Yes, this Blu-ray was released in April, but my review copy just arrived a few days ago. I’m not saying this to criticize Arrow (slip-ups happen, and I assumed they couldn’t fulfil my request) – I just want to pre-empt any questions about why I’m reviewing a disc that’s been out for a few months.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★