A Look Back: Sixteen Candles

When we watch movies, we’re often presented with scenarios that require a suspension of disbelief, such as when a character accidentally makes dates for the same time and place, and rather than cancelling one like a normal person, chooses to try and be two places at once, inevitably getting humiliated in the process.  Some are completely ridiculous, but others may seem more possible.  “Home Alone,” asked parents if they could conceivably leave behind a child on a trip if it was completely hectic, the kid overslept, and whoever did the head count accidentally included the neighbor’s kid, and although I wasn’t a parent, I found that plausible enough.  Still, the set-up of an entire family (including extended relatives) forgetting their sixteen-year-old daughter’s birthday, as happens to Molly Ringwald in “Sixteen Candles,” is chilling and hard to buy, but it’s possible nevertheless, at least for me.

That perky Molly would wake up on the morning of her sixteenth birthday and receive not a single gift or special greeting seems off at first, but when we learn that it’s the day her older sister is getting married, it seems more plausible.  To add insult to injury, though, Molly’s body is refusing to cooperate and mature in a way that would make her more apparent to her crush (Michael Schoeffling).  But even though Molly is disappointed that she hasn’t turned into a swan overnight, her grandparents have a different view.  Upon arrival, her grandmother squeals, “Fred, she’s gotten her boobies!” plus, they bring along an exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), who is definitely dorky  So things are kind of grim.

Molly’s day does not improve when she answers what is supposed to be an anonymous “sex test” in a class, and after revealing the name of her crush, realizes that he may have seen what she wrote.  We also get to see Michael’s current girlfriend (Haviland Morris) who has finished with the messy puberty process, and very hot, even though it appears that Michael may be having second thoughts about the relationship.  That night, still smarting from being neglected, Molly attends a school dance, and her humiliation increases when it turns out that even dealing with culture shock and dressing in attire that will make a character later inquire if he’s “retarded,” Gedde manages to hook up much faster than she does.  (Alcohol and other recreational substances are the great equalizer – they make teens from all cultures lose their inhibitions.)  Michael and Haviland attend the dance, too, as does a character simply called the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) who has a huge crush on Molly.  It turns out that there is much more embarrassment in store.

In fairy tales, the heroine sometimes has to undergo a humiliating test before she triumphs, gets her prince and lives happily ever after, and this is certainly true for Molly in this movie.  The heroine may also encounter a person who is “different” in some way: elderly, unattractive, etc., and after proving that they are compassionate, are rewarded unexpectedly.  This happens here, too, when Molly agrees to lend Anthony her panties for an hour, so he can show them off to the entire freshmen male population – and he agrees to put in a good word for her with Michael.  Later on, at a party Michael is hosting, a series of unexpected events occur when Haviland passes out drunk, and like a gentleman, he lends Anthony his car so he can deal with her, after learning of Molly’s true feelings.  (In other words, date rape occurs, though this is played completely for laughs so no one has to undergo moral dilemmas or deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome.)  Haviland, as far as movie mean girls go is pretty benign, and her only real “crime” appears to be looking over twenty and not being able to hold her liquor, so when I saw “Sixteen Candles” I did feel sorry for her.  But she’s really a side-note in the story.

Now that he’s slipped his leash, Michael attempts several times to get in touch with Molly, but gets a tongue lashing from her grandparents via phone.  When the wedding arrives, Molly is a bridesmaid (by this time, her dad has remembered her birthday), and her sister winds up with her own dose of humiliation, thanks to a bottle of muscle relaxants.  When Molly comes out of the church, Michael appears like magic and gestures toward her – and it turns out that he’s managed to procure a birthday cake, even though it might be more prudent to try and clean up his totally trashed home before his parents see it.  But that would make for a much less satisfying ending.

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Movie review: “The DUFF”

There’s a scene in “Not Another Teen Movie,” where the protagonist’s friend bets him that he can’t turn an ugly girl into a prom queen, and looks around their high school campus for candidates. After considering and rejecting an albino folk singer, a hunchback, and conjoined twins, he picks the girl who has – get ready – glasses, a ponytail and paint-stained overalls. In a later scene, another girl instructs her to remove her glasses and unloosen her ponytail and says, “I’m a miracle worker!” Because in a Hollywood teen movie, that’s all it ever takes. Of course, if these characters ever attended your high school, they’d probably be mobbed, but in movies, they tend to be targets of outright derision – at least until they learn to stand up for their values and Believe In Themselves.

Which is to say that if you’ve seen a movie before, you don’t really need me to give you the extended plot of “The DUFF,” in which Mae Whitman plays the less-than-pretty sidekick to her two model friends, until she realizes her role is that of the “gatekeeper,” in which guys only approach her in order to get details on whether her friends would be receptive to going out with them. Of course, two of the “designated ugly fat friend,” letters are inaccurate, but this is a Hollywood high school in which even the non-Queen Bees are model tall with perfect hair and skin that has never encountered a zit. One character informs her boyfriend that she can, if she wishes, date thirty-year-olds which is believable because the actress appears to be well into her twenties. In any event, stung into action, Mae agrees to tutor her next door neighbor (Robbie Amell), a popular jock who she used to be friends with as kids, in science if he will help her overcome her DUFF status. Let the life lessons begin.

The DUFF role, as Mae’s teacher (Ken Jeung) points out has been around for decades, it just gets a different label every now and then. With a few exceptions, the film follows the standard makeover movie plot, in which the following commandments are evoked, so that the viewer will have comforting flashbacks to films like “She’s All That,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Drive Me Crazy,” and (near the end) a nod to “Pretty in Pink.” So even if you’re not in high school anymore, it will still feel familiar, as each trope pops up. Here are six that will make you nod knowingly.

1. Thou shalt begin the movie totally clueless.

2. Thou shalt undergo a healthy dose of humiliation.

3. Thou shalt discover that one’s unattainable crush is actually a jerk.

4. Thou shalt be given an assignment by an adult which will put everything into perspective.

5. Thou shalt tell off one’s rival in amazingly eloquent terms near the end.

6. Thou shalt realize that True Love has been right under one’s nose all along.

Of course, by the end, Mae is triumphant – telling off the Queen Bee, snagging the guy and getting acclaim for her article about Homecoming in the school. She’s still dressing like a refugee from the nineties, but she now has healthy self-esteem. And the guy, which isn’t supposed to be the point, but of course, is.

The audience I saw the movie with also enjoyed it, laughing hysterically throughout. But to be fair, the trailer for the “Mall Cop” sequel in which Kevin James is relentlessly pummeled in the nuts and elsewhere, which was shown beforehand also received this reaction. It was also a school vacation week. So you decide.

A Look Back: The Breakfast Club

THE BREAKFAST CLUB: THE SUPER-ABRIDGED VERSION

EXT. HIGH SCHOOL PARKING LOT

ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL’S REAL LIFE MOM
“You better find a way to study during your all-day detention, or you won’t get into the Ivy League, and I won’t love you anymore.”

ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL
“Wow, we’re starting early in establishing that all these characters have clueless, unsympathetic families….No, I mean, sure, Mom.”

FADE IN
INT. A SCHOOL LIBRARY

PAUL GLEASON
“I’m a bitter ass who resents every minute I must spend with these teenagers, but whose antagonism will give the characters something to unite and rebel against, thus proving I am of some use after all….OK, kids, have fun and don’t forget to write me an essay telling me just who you think you are!  Bye now.”

JUDD NELSON
“My hardened, cynical exterior masks an abused, scared, vulnerable little boy.  Fortunately, my bullying of my fellow library inmates will eventually morph into confessions of a personal nature, which will in turn, make me more attractive to the opposite sex, and help me begin to heal!  Forget professionally trained therapists.”

MOLLY RINGWALD
“I’m a poor little rich girl who, in classic teen movie tradition, needs to hook up with a juvenile delinquent, smoke some weed and learn how to chill out.  Fortunately, JUDD NELSON is trapped in this place with me.”

EMILIO ESTEVEZ
“I’m a jock, whose father rides him constantly and makes him feel inadequate.  It made me bully someone, hence why I’m here today, but really, I’m a nice guy.”

ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL
“I’m a brain, whose parents also pressure him constantly and make him so miserable he brought a gun to school.  OK, not a real gun, but…”

ALLY SHEEDY
“I’m just really, really, really weird because my parents constantly ignore me.  But – major plot point alert – I clean up well.”

JUDD NELSON
“Hey, being open with my peers isn’t as threatening as I thought.  Did you know, my father beats me? Look, here’s the mark to prove it.”

(Movie tone and audience mood suddenly nosedives)

MOLLY RINGWALD
“You win.  Boy, this movie got grim all of a sudden.”

ALLY SHEEDY
“Why don’t we smoke some weed in order to chill out , and then Molly can give me a makeover, so I can win the heart of EMILIO.  Wait, why do I need a love interest?  And a makeover?   Couldn’t I just make friends with these guys, or find a way to tell my folks how much their neglect hurts me?”

DIRECTOR JOHN HUGHES
“No, because Molly is going to hook up with Judd, and Anthony is going to write the required essay.  And this movie needs some romance. Plus I want the end to be ambiguous.  So there aren’t going to be any extended scenes with any of these allegedly abusive parents.”

ALLY SHEEDY
“OK, then.”

So, over the course of a single day, the five all bond, and discover that though they are different, they are also alike!  Who knew?

Although they still won’t talk to each other come Monday morning.  Despite the vigorous rendition of the theme song, “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

END