The 1986 film Sixteen Candles tells a timeless tale of growing up in suburban America. The film s star, Sam, played by Molly Ringwald, wakes up with big expectations on her sweet sixteenth birthday only to be completely disappointed. Not only does she find that she looks exactly the same as when she was fifteen, but her family is so preoccupied with her older sister s wedding that they forget her birthday altogether.
The film opens with Sam on the phone with her best girlfriend Randy. She is examining herself in her full length mirror and is totally horrified to find that her body didn t magically transform overnight. She was hoping to wake up with a body just like Caroline s. Caroline is the head cheerleader, prom queen, and girlfriend of the most popular boy in school, Jake Ryan. Sam is hopelessly in love with Jake and is convinced that he won t know she exists until she is more developed, more mature, more like Caroline. Little does she know, Jake does notice her. He is intrigued by a certain mispassed note containing some very personal information about Sam s sex life (or lack of
one). In this note, Sam confesses that she is a virgin (she has never done it ) and is saving herself not for marriage, but for Jake Ryan. Jake finds himself wanting to get to know Sam and wanting a real relationship with someone like her, rather than with someone like Caroline. He knows Caroline doesn t love him, and he doesn t love her either. The only real reason they re together is because he s the most popular boy at school and she s the most popular girl. Throughout the movie, Sam is preoccupied with becoming more like Caroline, while the real reason Jake is interested in her is because she
This film contains some classic examples of the kinds of real life issues adolescents deal with. Issues such as popularity, peer relationships, family/sibling relationships, sex, and struggles with identity are all addressed in this ninety-minute film.
Sam s high school is like any stereotypical high school with it s various social crowds. The popular crowd in this movie is composed of mostly jocks and cheerleaders. These adolescents seem to be the most physically attractive and have the wealthiest parents. According to a recent study, the ways boys and girls gain popularity or prestige in school has not changed much over the last couple of decades. Girls and boys typically gain prestige in school through totally different, but very traditional means. Most boys
gain prestige through participation in sports and school achievement while most girls gain school prestige more through physical attractiveness, sociability, and school achievement (Suitor & Reavis, 1995). Jake and Caroline are perfect examples of the popular kids in school. Jake is on the football team, has a fast car, a big house, and is extremely attractive and charming. Caroline, on the other hand, is a social butterfly. She is captain of the cheerleading squad, prom queen, and the life of the party. She has blonde hair, blue eyes,
and a perfectly developed body that all the other girls envy.
Sam in particular is very envious of Caroline s body. I think this is because she isn t very comfortable in her own body and is very self-conscious about the way others look at her. Sam has not yet established her own identity, so she models her identity around the identity of the one person she wouldn t mind being; the girlfriend of Jake Ryan. Popularity and identity go hand in hand in the sense that those who are popular are usually the ones that establish an identity first and then have their peers modeling their identities
after them. This would explain why so many adolescents want to be just like their friends, complete with the same clothes, hairstyles, etc. Sam sees that both girls and guys are attracted to Caroline s looks and personality and wants more than anything to be just like her. Little does she know, the main reason Jack s takes an interest in her is because she seems a little bit different. She isn t just like everyone else, and he actually sees that as an attractive quality. Sam is just a sophomore, while Jake is a senior. He is a little bit more mature and more confident in his own person. After all, he s the one all the other guys want to be like. He can appreciate that Sam is beautiful not in a blonde hair, blue eyes kind of way, but in her own special way.
Throughout the movie, many kinds of relationships are explored. Sexual/romantic relationships are a big issue, as are peer relationships and family relationships. First, sexual/romantic relationships are somewhat idealized and thought to be very glamorous. Sam is completely infatuated with Jake and has this very romantic and somewhat unrealistic expectation of what it would be like to be his girlfriend. Sam convinces herself that she is in love with Jake and there is no one else in the world for her. In all reality, I think Sam is in love with the idea of Jake and being the kind of girl that he would be interested in. After all, she doesn t even know him. She doesn t have any idea of the kinds of values or morals he has, what he likes to do, etc.
Overall, Sam seems to have a close relationship with her family. She is
understandably upset with them for forgetting her birthday, but she is able to forgive them in the end. She seems to have a pretty typical relationship with her siblings. She and her younger brother are constantly at each other s throats, and she and her older sister seem to be close but also somewhat competitive with each other. I got the impression that Sam was closer with her father than with her mother since she ends up turning to him for advice about Jake. I found that somewhat unusual in that I would expect her to go to her
mother or sister for advice on boys. Her father seems to be very open and supportive and is really able to help Sam with her problem though. Research shows that adolescents that report having an intimate relationship with their parents are less likely to be at risk for certain dangerous behaviors and are more likely to have higher self-esteem (Field, Lang, Yando, & Bendell, 1995). Although Sam is self-conscious and somewhat unsure of herself, I think she knows what she stands for and is confident when it comes to her morals and values. She is not the kind of person that would take dangerous risks or do
something she knew was wrong.
Both sets of Sam s grandparents are also in town for the wedding and staying with them, her father s parents in her bedroom. They all make a big deal about the young woman Sam is becoming and her mom s mom even goes so far as to comment on her perky breasts, which totally humiliates Sam.
As for peer relationships, Sam has one best girlfriend with whom she is very close. She and Randy are constantly together or on the phone with each other. They tell each other their most personal thoughts and feelings and often turn to each other for advice. On the other hand, male friendships as portrayed in this film are quite the opposite. They seem to be on more of an activity-based level and not such an intimate level. Ted, the dorky freshman who has a crush on Sam, and his friends are not nearly as loyal and honest
with each other. One example in particular comes to mind. Ted and his dorky friends manage to get into a senior party at Jake Ryan s house and as soon as they walk in, Ted knocks over a beer can pyramid the drunk football players have been building. Immediately, Ted blames it on his friend, who in turn blames it on the other friend. They don t see anything wrong with deserting their friends, just as long as they don t take a beating from the football players. Another example is when Ted borrows Sam s underpants. He makes a deal with Sam to borrow her underpants so he can tell his friends that he had sex with her. He sees no problem in being dishonest with his friends, as long
There is no doubt that the issue of sex is a major issue among adolescents, and Sam and her friends are no exception. Sex is a major topic of conversation among Sam and Randy, and the subject of the mispassed note that ends up in Jake Ryan s possession. This note asked some very personal questions about sexual experiences such as, Have you ever done IT? This is a seemingly simple and straightforward question, yet Sam responded, I don t think so. From this, we can tell that there is much confusion among the adolescent population about sex. I think we can also say that the males in the movie felt more pressured into having sex than the females. Ted, for example, was obsessed with having sex, or at least tricking his friends into believing he had sex, the entire movie. A study conducted on gender differences in sexual attitudes among adolescents concluded that males experienced just as much peer pressure as females, but they were more likely to subdue to it. They were also much more likely to lie about sexual experiences (Werner-Wilson, 1998). This is not to say that the females in the movie were not having
sex. We know Caroline and Jake have sex since she admits, while she is drunk, that she takes birth control pills. However, I don t get the impression that Caroline and Jake have the kind of romantic sex Sam imagines. Her idea of sex is tied to very strongly to affection and being in love. It makes perfect sense in her mind to have sex with Jake since she is in love with him.
In conclusion, the film Sixteen Candles is a classic example of some of the issues most everyone faces when coming of age. However stereotypical, the portrayal of the adolescent experience is truly captured in this film. I think most everyone that watches it can relate and be reminded of how fficult, confusing, exciting, and wonderful that time of their life.