I’m a big Fall Out Boy fan and I have too much time on my hands at the moment, so when I saw that Sixteen Candles was available to watch on Netflix, I figured I would be killing two proverbial birds with one stone by tuning in. Strangely— as I now come to realise—I had never heard anything about this movie before now and knew only that my favourite band had fashioned the title into the name of one of their songs. I was barely 10 minutes into the film when my ‘this-is-questionable’ senses started tingling and had reached full-blown outrage after 30 because, well, this film is a sexist, racist, misogynistic piece of trash.
It’s hard to know where to start with a mess this large, so how about we just go ahead and tackle this chronologically, starting with a conversation between our protagonist, Samantha (Molly Ringwald) and her sidekick Randy (Liane Curtis) where they are discussing sex and virginity, both of which are key themes in the movie: Samantha: “You do it on a cloud without getting pregnant or herpes.” Randy: “I don’t need the cloud– just a pink Trans Am and the guy.” Samantha: “A black one.” Randy: “A black guy??” Samantha: “A black Trans Am. A pink guy!”
Jaw retrieved from the floor upon which it fell after this exchange, I hoped that perhaps the film and the characters in it would redeem themselves and said redemption might be played out in the form of a love story that develops between Sam or Randy and a man of colour, thus providing us with a moral tale on the ills of casual racism. But alas, it gets worst from there with the introduction of foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), whose every appearance in the film is accompanied by the sound of a gong chiming in the distance. He is the only person of colour amongst the named cast and his very presence is the recurring punch line of a running joke. Nice one, John Hughes.
We are subjected to Male Gaze 101 with a shot of her in the shower, complete with soft, glamour lighting and a startling close up of her breasts.
Believe it or not, things continue to move swiftly on in a downwards spiral from here, especially if you have the misfortune of being a woman in the John Hughes universe. Caroline is the girlfriend of Jake (Michael Schoeffling)— who is Samantha’s crush in the film—and even worse than being pitted as the two-dimensional antagonist, she becomes a plaything to be shared amongst, and disposed of by, the male characters. This first becomes apparent when we are subjected to Male Gaze 101 with a shot of her in the shower, complete with soft, glamour lighting and a startling close up of her breasts. Granted, it is our female characters gazing— but they are doing so through the eyes of a man and what they imagine one would want.
Unfortunately, the objectification doesn’t end there and Caroline’s plight worsens. At a party, later on in the day, Caroline is very drunk and searches for her boyfriend, Jake. She finds him in a bedroom trying to call Samantha (because he ‘likes the way she looks at [him]’) and rather than feel terrible for his actions, he screams at her to leave him alone and slams her hair in the door. After pausing his pursuit of another woman, our Nice Guy™, Jake, takes his misogyny to a whole new level when he asks ‘the Geek’ (Anthony Michael Hall) to take Caroline home. But not until he tells him to ‘have fun’. This is the point at which my stomach began feeling heavy: did that suggestion mean what I thought it meant? Jake has just condoned another character to take advantage of his inebriated girlfriend.
I waited for the moment of reason. The moment where the madness stops and everybody comes to their senses, all ‘A-ha! Fooled you!’
Again, I waited for the moment of reason. The moment where the madness stops and everybody comes to their senses, all ‘A-ha! Fooled you— we’re not a bunch of animals, y’know!’. But it didn’t come. Caroline is whisked away with the Geek and he gets her progressively more drunk, poses her slumped, floppy body for photographs and, as we learn, rapes her. The morning after, still sat in the car, the Geek asks Caroline if they slept together; ‘I’m pretty sure we did’ she says, face contorted in confusion. ‘Did you enjoy it?’ the script has the audacity to read. ‘I have this weird feeling I did’ she says. And exit all hope.
If the idea of woman as object hadn’t already been drilled home painfully in these scenes, we see the theme continue well into the finale of the movie with Samantha’s sister Ginny. Queue the morning of her wedding and she is stood bleary-eyed and sedated, having taken multiple tranquilisers. She sleep walks her way through her wedding and is bundled into a car afterwards by a groom who appears to be many years her senior and apparently desperate to spirit her away from her family and loved ones. I have flash backs to earlier points in the film where both Ginny and her father comment on the transient and superficial nature of her relationships and come to the conclusion that her minor but significant role is a microcosm of the experience of women in Sixteen Candles: objects to be looked at, exploited and then, ultimately, discarded.