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Friday, February 3, 2012

Sixteen Candles

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The 184 comedy, Sixteen Candles, written and directed by John Hughes is a glimpse into Samantha Baker’s life on the weekend of her sixteenth birthday. Samantha is anticipating turning “sweet sixteen” and is expecting something really special to happen on her birthday. To her disappointment, her family forgets her birthday and one “tragedy” leads to another. This movie clearly depicts some of the struggles and fantasies that adolescents face in a lighthearted manner.


A strong theme in this movie is physical and social maturation during the awkward age of adolescence. Samantha faces a day that she has dreamed about for years and abruptly realizes that her fantasy is not coming true. As she is getting ready for school on her birthday, Friday morning, she talks to a friend on the phone voicing her frustration about “physically still being 15 years old.” Physical signs of puberty are a growth spurt, pubic hair growth, and, in girls, a widening of hips, beginning of menarche, and breast development. According to Berger (000), “We know that the age at which puberty starts is highly variable normal children begin to notice body changes at any time between the ages of 8 and 14, with the hormonal changes beginning a year or two earlier for girls than boys.” A teenager is in the transition from childhood to adulthood and finds that this can be a difficult time. Johnson, Bassin & Shaw (16) state, “During this period, they must contend with physical changes, pressure to conform to current social trends and peer behaviors, and increased expectations from family members, teachers, and other adults.”


The people and experiences that Samantha encounters on her birthday depict the angst of a teenager. Initially, Samantha reacts to a harried mother who is trying to get the kids off to school and her husband to work. As she is leaving the house, she realized that her family has forgotten her special day. Though her friend tries to console her, she is deeply hurt that her family forgot her birthday. Due to the hormonal changes that girls experience during adolescence, emotions and moods change more quickly than they did before (Berger, 000). These heightened emotions that Samantha is experiencing, which makes her even more sensitive, contribute to her anger, disappointment, and devastation over her forgotten sixteenth birthday.


As children go through puberty, the hormonal changes wreak havoc on one’s emotions as mentioned above. Berger (000) states, “The strength of all these reactions depends on the social context. Even the one change that is linked most directly to hormones, specifically thinking about sex, is powerfully affected by culture, which can shape such thoughts into enjoyable fantasies, shameful preoccupations, or an impetus to action.” Therefore, the subject of sex is a common one among adolescents as they become more aware of their sexuality. Sixteen Candles, a movie portraying the turmoil of adolescence, includes sexuality as a major theme.


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At the end of this long day at school, Samantha comes home to discover that her paternal grandparents have taken over her bedroom, and her maternal grandparents are checking out her “womanly figure.” As she is greets her maternal grandparents in the hallway, her grandmother mentions how developed her breasts are. To Samantha’s dismay, she reaches up and pinches her breasts. As she runs away mortified, she states, “I can’t believe I was felt up by my grandmother.” She also notices that everyone is so focused on her sister’s wedding, to take place the next day; even her grandparents forget her birthday.


In many high schools, the student body is made up of the “jocks, popular crowd, and the dorks,” and those just trying to find their niche amongst the people and activities. Samantha’s school is no exception. As Samantha is thinking about Jake, Ted, the leader of a group of “dorky” freshmen, does whatever he can, both on the school bus and at a school dance to be noticed by her. While Ted is trying to be a “ladies man” in front of his friends, he makes a bet with them that he can “bag a babe” while at the school dance. To demonstrate his success, he is to show his friends a pair of girls’ underpants. He makes several attempts to dance with Samantha and spend time with her. Feeling humiliated, she runs to hide in a school body shop and sits quietly in an old car. This is where she finds some solace and makes a friend.


Ted follows Samantha to the car in the shop and they have a thoughtful conversation. Despite some awkward moments between them, such as when Ted tries to climb on top of Samantha and kiss her, a friendship forms. Ted confesses that he has never slept with a girl and made a bet with his friends that he would “do it” with Samantha. She confesses that she is saving herself for Jake Ryan, a popular senior. As Ted assures her that Jake had asked him about her on the dance floor, Samantha agrees to give Ted her underpants. Since this is enough excitement for one evening, Samantha goes home and Ted parties with his friends.


In addition to social and physical maturation as well as sexuality, another theme in this movie is that of underage drinking. Jake’s girlfriend, Carolyn, invites over a “few” friends to Jake’s house after the dance as his parents are out of town. At this teenage party, there is no shortage of beer or hormones. Berger (000) states, “the use of alcohol and other drugs has become a part of many young people’s lives in every industrialized nation in the world.” It appears that most teens at this party, with the exception of Jake and Ted, are drinking alcohol. According to Berger (000), “Young people’s likelihood of using drugs is directly related to their peers’ attitudes about the acceptability and riskiness of drug use � especially if their parents do not discuss it with them.” There is no citable example from the film of parent-directed discussion on the risks of alcohol or other drugs. As the Ryan’s house becomes trashed and the party ends, Jake discovers that the only ones left at his house are Ted, the freshmen dork, and Carolyn, his girlfriend who is drunk and passed out. Ted and Jake share their stories � Ted gives Jake Samantha’s underpants and tells him of his desire to “bag a babe.” Jake tells Ted that he wants a serious relationship and is no longer interested in Carolyn and confesses his increasing interest in Samantha Baker.


Jake has a plan. His mission will be to return the panties to Samantha and Ted can take home his drunk, beautiful, girlfriend. Ted agrees to drive Carolyn home with the hope that he might “get lucky.” Once daylight, Carolyn wakes up in Ted’s arms while sitting in a church parking lot and does not know who he is. They introduce each other and discover that they probably had sex that night. Berger (000) reports on a 17 survey of high school students did by Benson reporting that the “drinker” � those who had drunk six or more times in the previous month, were more than twice as likely to be sexually active. If Carolyn had not been drunk, she probably would not have been in a position to apparently have sex with Ted, the dorky freshmen student. Surprisingly, Carolyn realizes that she enjoyed being in Ted’s arms and she and Jake agree to see other people.


Saturday, the day of Ginny’s wedding, arrives. Samantha’s family is focused on the wedding and also discovers they forgot Samantha’s birthday. The wedding is a disaster because Ginny is overdosed on muscle relaxants to ease her menstrual cramps. Ginny staggers down the aisle and eventually gets married. After the ceremony Samantha’s family joins the crowd outside, departs, and leaves her behind on the church steps. Jake Ryan is standing across the street watching her and motions her to his red sports car. Samantha joins him and later she and Jake are sitting across from a birthday cake glowing with candles.


According to Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages, the adolescent is going through the stage of “Identity vs. Role Confusion.” “The adolescent is discovering how he or she fits into the social world, and struggles with all the options of who he or she is and who he or she can become” (Chabonneau 15). During this time, an adolescent is either confused about what roles to play or is establishing an identity for him or herself. Berger (000) states, “In the process, adolescents attempt to develop sexual, moral, political, and religious identities that are relatively stable….” Freud’s Psychosexual Stage for the adolescent is the Genital Stage. At this time, a young person seeks sexual satisfaction and sexual stimulation by exploring heterosexual relationships (Berger 000).


John Hughes, the screenwriter and director of Sixteen Candles, clearly shows Samantha’s struggle with finding her identity and highlighting the many aspects of teenage development. These areas include physical growth and sexual maturation as biosocial development, adolescent thinking and education as cognitive development, and discovering one’s identity and interacting with parents and peers as psychosocial development (Berger, 000). Though this movie focuses more on Samantha’s physical and social development and interaction with peers, there are a few scenes in which she interacts with her parents and siblings. Samantha is the second of four children. She has a sister, Ginny, who is about 0, a brother, Mike, who is about 10 or 11, and a sister, Sarah who is about 8. As everyone is getting ready for school and work on Friday, and the wedding on Saturday, the family is rushing around in chaos as they all compete for time in the bathroom.





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