No disrespect to John Hughes, but I firmly believe the greatest high school movie of all time is Fast Times at Ridgemont High. We hearty samples of teens with ravaging hormones, teachers with overbearing agendas, and the strange phenomenon of young schoolgoers actually having to hold jobs in behemoth-like malls. Although Fast Times is the closest glimpse of the true reality of being a teenager we’ve ever seen, it still doesn’t really portray the awkward sexual tension and crippling social pressure of being a teen quite like Sixteen Candles.
Molly Ringwald stars as Samantha, a newly-minted 16-year-old whose parents have forgotten her birthday, is being hounded by an obnoxious geek, and is completely ignored by her dream crush Jake. What Samantha doesn’t know is that Jake is totally into her! So much so that he tries to mine information from anyone who has a slight inkling of who she may be every single chance he gets! How could she not see that she likes him? She must be crazy!
“She isn’t crazy, she’s just a teenager!” we, the formerly-teenaged-aged moviegoing public say to ourselves, having been in similar scenarios back in our younger days. “She’s insecure, it’s really hard to talk to a guy you like!”
This is true, and Sixteen Candles shows this perfectly. But the movie doesn’t get enough credit for its depiction of how peer pressure really influences teen’s sexual desires. Jake wants Samantha, but he wants to get confirmation first from his gym buddy that she is cool, he doesn’t want to risk his social status by pursuing someone other people don’t like. While Farmer Ted definitely wants to hook up with Samantha, the affirmation from his A/V club brethren is much more important. And even Samantha, after being told repeatedly that Jake likes her, even when Jake appears at the dance standing right behind her, she still can’t muster the courage to talk to him, just because she already has it in her head that in her high school bubble, Jake is at the top, and there’s no way he’d float down to her level. It’s raw, crippling insecurity at its finest, and its amazing.
This insecurity prevalent in Sixteen Candles is in stark contrast to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where characters really have no problem pursuing who they want and when they want to. Stacy makes it clear to Mark Ratner and Mike Damone that she wants them. Linda pens an honest, open letter to her ex about her feelings after getting dumped and preaches with full confidence to Stacy on blowjob technique. Mark isn’t as genetically gifted as Mike, but isn’t afraid to throw down after losing Stacy to the smooth-talking huckster. Fast Times is still an authentic portrayal of high schoolers who aggressively pursue their sexual desires without hesitation, but the film differs from the John Hughes’ staple because Stacey, Linda, Mike and Mark characters don’t feel insecure. They don’t dwell on drama or get paranoid about he-said-she-said scenarios, they just try to carry about their lives. That makes the Fast Times characters enviable, but not that real.
Sixteen Candles isn’t without its faults either. The humor is overly crude, and some of it desperately aged (I’d like to see a studio exec try to greenlight a Long Duk Dong spinoff in today’s Oscars So White atmosphere.) But it’s the classic conflict of pursuing what we want vs. our worries of what others will think that makes Sixteen Candles so enjoyable and relatable, not just to teens but to adults who still face these same romantic dilemmas. Anyone whose ever struck up a new relationship or has worried about pursuing that new guy at the office or the cute girl at the gym will totally relate to Samantha and Jake’s plight. We find ourselves worrying about when to text, how often to call or when is too send to friend them on Facebook,
Even if things do work out and the attraction turns out to be mutual, we’re still caught in that limbo of not wanting to be too pushy or too distant in fear of losing them, like Samantha deliberates with Ted in the car after hearing Jake likes her. We laugh at their foibles, these stupid teens caught up in high school romantic drama and how much more matured we are that we don’t deal with such trivial teenage dating games. But deep down, we know that we’re still very much Jake and Samantha at heart.