In Which It’s Really Human Of You To Listen To All My Bullshit

This Recording’s ongoing series about Films Of The 1980s continues this week with Molly Lambert’s love letter to Sixteen Candles. You can find the archives of the series here.

They Fucking Forgot My Birthday

by Molly Lambert

Sixteen Candles: John Hughes, 1984

The Jewish Conspiracy has succeeded at making sure non-traditionally attractive and awkward Yidboyz get portrayed onscreen and off as being capable of winning the affection of 10s even when they themselves are 5s at best. But where does that leave all the non-normative and jolie-laide girls?

There is this optimistic myth often perpetuated by the media that women are less shallow than men. And it bothers me because honestly, we’re not. Just like boys, most girls would rather project ideals onto a beautiful blank template than deal with an actual average human being. And then when we find out the hot guy is, you know, not really that smart or interesting we still find ways to convince ourselves he must just be secretly rilly deep.

TV examples are Jordan Catalano from My So Called Life and Daniel Desario from Freaks and Geeks. You know they’re out of your reach, that they’re probably kind of stupid, but who cares? They’re just so cute! You could probably make Brian Krakow or Nick Andopolis your actual boyfriend but that’s so attainable and boring. Plus those guys are both needy and stalkerish.

Decidedly non-awkward Jewish girls include Winona Horowitz Ryder, Natalie “Manic Pixie” Portman, and Cher Horowitz in (still my favorite movie) Clueless. They are not the point of this piece. We all know a hot babe can do well regardless of which Testament she follows. The question posed here is how can we show the same favor to ordinary looking girls.

I mean, there are a few “Awkward Girls Coming Of Age” movies but they are generally the polar opposite of wish fulfillment fantasies. The two I can think of are Welcome To The Dollhouse and Slums Of Beverly Hills. They both depict what it’s like to be totally miserable and have no control over your living situation. It’s like the antithesis of Animal House or Porky’s.

There are barely any teen movies that don’t end with the poorly socialized male geek protagonist getting laced up with his babe of choice. The only one with a genuine seventies style downer ending is The Last American Virgin, based on cult Israeli sex comedy Lemon Popsicle. I assume this is where Wet Hot American Summer got its downer ending conceit.

For every movie starring a hideous Hebrew moppet who gets to tag-team bang a mother/daughter duo of hotties there should be at least one film about an awkward Jewish girl who gets to date a beautiful shaygetz guy played by like, Aaron Eckhart or Viggo.

Okay wait, actually Dirty Dancing has the exact kind of plot I just described, but I really hate that movie. I just find it phony, despite the abortions. To my mind the real flaw in Dirty Dancing is that the Patrick Swayze character is symbolically standing in for a black dude. Why not just let Baby get involved with a black dude? It would have made for a much better story.

In Sixteen Candles the nerdy girl gets to have true agency. She is the main character rather than a cipher. She’s not a sex bomb hidden behind glasses, she’s just totally average looking. And yet she aspires to date a guy much hotter and more popular than she is. Try coming up with other movies where it’s the case. The only ones I thought of are Hairspray and Teen Witch.

When faced with a realistic mate of semi-equal status, who among us doesn’t get horribly insulted and shudder “THEM?!?” Farmer Ted doesn’t really want Sam either, he’s just desperate for somebody. As it turns out both Sam and The Geek want to get with the popular hotties, and who doesn’t? He even gets to date-rape Jake Ryan’s girlfriend. It was the eighties!

You can argue against Molly Ringwald’s acting skills, but there’s no denying that she nails what it feels like to be an average slightly offbeat teenage girl. She’s hardly ugly, but neither pretty nor charismatic enough to merit attention from the high school boys preoccupied with the big breasted blondes of the North Shore. Sam Baker and Square Pegs were the best chances a geek girl in the eighties had to see herself represented onscreen.

Sixteen Candles makes no judgment on Sam wanting to date way out of her league jock Jake Ryan. She has no interest in her outcast peer played by Anthony Michael Hall, (known only as Farmer Ted or “The Geek”). But he does charge other nerds for views of her panties, which is legitimately creepy and gross.

Like Kevin Smith, Apatow, or the Revenge Of The Nerds series Hughes aims to inspire those disenfranchised by popularity. It’s just so rarely that teenage girls are depicted realistically and sympathetically, instead of as superficial objects of male lust.

On the downside, there’s also The Donger. Like most AZN characters in films of the eighties, Long Duk Dong is a horribly embarrassing racist caricature. Only Short Round makes the modern day film viewer cringe quite as much as Gedde Watanabe’s oriental minstrelsy. On the plus side, he too gets his athletic dream girl, so everyone wins. Happy endings for all!

A funfact is that in real life, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall actually briefly dated. Another funfact about Pretty In Pink (which is more or less the same plot with more class issues and James Spader directed by Howard Deutch) is that Robert Downey Jr. was originally going to play Duckie.

As per the original ending of Hughes’s script, it would make a lot more sense for Duckie and Ringwald to get together at the end. However after Jon Cryer was cast when RDJ dropped out, audiences in test screenings reacted poorly to Molly dumping prettyboy yuppie Blaine for the Duck and they re-shot it.

Which as it turned out was the right move. Because, y’know, these characters are in fucking high school. Forget about platonic male best friends you’re not attracted to. Just date the hot rich guy. Who cares if his friends are all dicks? You’re going to break up after the summer to go to college anyway.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording

What’s So Sweet About Sweet Sixteen? – The Tammys: (mp3)

Blue Sixteen – The Tammys: (mp3)

Part Of Growing Up – The Tammys: (mp3)

Pink Cadillac – Bruce Springsteen: (mp3)

Pink Clouds – Superchunk: (mp3)

“A big Trans-Am in the driveway with a ribbon on it and some incredibly gorgeous guy you meet in France and you do it on a cloud without getting pregnant or herpes”

Teenage Prayer – The Vaselines: (mp3)

Pretty Girls – Joe Jackson: (mp3)

Pretty Pink – David Banner ft. Jazze Phe, TI & Marcus: (mp3)

Roman Candle – Elliott Smith: (mp3)


9 thoughts on “In Which It’s Really Human Of You To Listen To All My Bullshit

  1. Mmm, yeah. Also loved it. Also there’s the boner website, which obviously I read in its entirety, where you are all, “Don’t interupt [sic] my art, motherfucker!” That’s right.

  2. I knew none of that. I used to watch John Hughes movies and flicks like “Lucas” as a kid in innercity Boston during the Crack Era and wonder to myself “Are there actually really people who live like that?”. It was as much fantasy as watching a John Carpenter flick to me.


  3. I want to agree with this post so much, but then I remember that in breakfast club molly ringwald is the hot rich girl and I feel all confused.

  4. I always felt that My So-Called Life was pretty much Sixteen Candles in the 90s. Except it was harder to buy Angela as forgettable. Molly Ringwald really was perfectly cast.

  5. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is required to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost
    a pretty penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not
    100% positive. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly
    appreciated. Thank you

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