As one who was not around in the 1980s, but instead of a generation that looked back fondly at the decade of which they just missed being a part - this movie is one that fascinates me. The 1980s were a time where TV exploded from something that people watched with an antenna, to something that had cable options, to something that had pay per view, movies, and specialty channels like MTV. Hard to believe in a time we take all this for granted - with The History Channel and Discovery - but it was a time when entertainment options, movie-wise, exploded. VCRs were in ready home use, and video stores were a good replacement and a viable option for date nights and high school gatehrings.
John Hughes produced a strong series of fillms, and though he made other movies, he's best remembered for his movies about and around the awkward teenage years. The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and so forth may not have captured the specifics of teenage life perfectly, but apparently it drew it in broad enough strokes that it resonated with audiences.
The most notorious and memorable one was the charming story of a girl, played by boyish redhead Molly Ringwald - whose sweet sixteen hopes are thoroughly dashed when her parents forget her birthday. They're so obsessed with the upcoming wedding of her older sister (a nightmare in which she's being hitched to an obnoxious bohunk) that in between her grandparents (both sets) showing up and making creepy remarks about her budding womanly body ("I can't beleive my grandmother felt me up") and them bringing along a gonzo Asian exchange student - they completely forgot about it. Her dreams, which varied from coming home to a new car to dating a hot guy - dwindle to the faint hope that someone would just acknowledge she's getting older. She's also trying wistfully to get the attention of the object of her affections while dodging the obnoxious hit-on of would-be freshman lothario Farmer Ted.
That's really the story in a nutshell, but it doesn't describe just how it landed with its audience. The teenage years in film up to that time were usually glamorized and romanticized by people who wished they could have those budding hormones back and the frenzied swooning of those first kisses - or derided as a time of hooliganism and the disaster of an immature brain in a mature body. John Hughes humanized those years, especially with small set pieces like Joan Cusack, in a memorable bit part - trying to nonchalantly usa a water fountain with a neck brace. The crippling awkwardness of early male adolescence is flensed bare as well, both in the painfully nerdy antics of Ted's two accomplices, and Ted himself, trying furiously to shed himself of his virginity even as his gangly body and braces make him the least attractive potential mate. Parents saddle kids into things they don't want - eiither with Ringwald's "Sam" having to chaperone the Asian exchange student Long Duk Dong (gong sound) or in another memorable bit piece, two parents who simply want to be alone for the night literally locking their unwilling and unhappy son into the school dance.
They also look on the other side of the curtain - head alpha male Jake Ryan is unhappy in a relationship that seems to be put together by cliques and the school committee - he's the head guy, he's dating the most good looking cheerleader in school (Dawson casting applies- both actors are in their mid to late 20s). He has to deal with the popular crowd simply using him - either in trashing his house, or hanging around with him for status. The cheerleader has the nicest breasts in school, in another humanizing moment in which other girls in gym class with their very real female bodies watch her shower from afar wistfully wishing they had her build - but her life revolves around morning afters, the worst of which being found in the back of a car with a fourteen year old boy, obviously hung over. In the parking lot of her church.
Wish fulfillment is granted to both main male characters - Farmer Ted loses his virginity to the hottest girl in school in a Rolls Royce after becoming a freshman legend by acquiring Sam's underwear (which he shows off at $5 a pop to the freshman male class). Jake realizes for some reason he's smitten with Samantha and is awkward and tongue tied around her - losing his alpha edge because he really seems to care about her. Ted realizes that what he feels for her is genuine love enough to actually step aside, knowing that she's enamored of him, and acts as the agent that brings them together.
There was talk of a sequel, but as time went on it got more difficult, and finally impossible with the death of John Hughes. It seemed that "Sixteen Candles II" - eventually Twenty Six Candles and the last attempt, Thirty Six Candles (to give you an idea of just how long they tried to revisit the story) - was doomed because someone or other was unhappy with the attempt to continue the story. The way it ended was damn near perfect and wound up into the kind of "happy ever after" you only get in adolescence - and either Ringwald or Hughes was unhappy with an attempt to describe the aftermath. Thirty Six Candles was almost a go, but with the death of John Hughes, it was nigh on impossible.
The other part of the problem was that though the movie is excellent in some respects, there are aspects of it that absolutely did not age well. You couldn't make a sequel without Long Duk Dong (gong noise) - but in this day of politicall correctness, social justice warriors and the histrionic ravings of people on Tumblr, the antics of Gedde Watanabe's zany Asian force of nature would be seen as the offensive yellowface character that it actually kind of was. Whereas they got away with Long Duk Dong (gong noise) because Watanabe's non-nuanced performance and the twist of having him actually be the wildest Big Man On Campus ever, it simply wouldn't fly today. Nor would cringe-worthy dialog in which Sam reacts to a misunderstanding about her perfect birthday (in which her friend thinks she wants to date a black guy) with a literal "Ewwwww!!!!! No!!!!". There's also a rather disturbing scene (in modern terms) in which Ted and Ryan negotiate over what amounts to a "girlfriend swap". In exchange for helping him get with Sam, he can have the keys to the Rolls Royce and she's passed out, so "go ahead and pretend you're me" and have sex with her. It's not only date-rapey but also pretty horrific when you analyze that the women in some respeect are being traded like stocks, regardless of the fact that both men seem to show just how much they care about Sam and her happiness in the exchange. One does wonder how Sam would feel if she learned just how Ryan showing up to her house with a cake and a profession of love actually came about.
It's a wild, fanciful film - but it has a touching love story that highly resonated with audiences. "Jake Ryan"'s good looks and charm resulted in more than a few very damp theater seats and a LOT of young men born in the late 80s and early 90s being named "Jake" or "Ryan". The actor in question was savvy and knew when to quit while he was ahead, having nowhere to go but down. He now makes furniture in the Pacific North West.