Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles.
For children of the 80s, the period between 1985 and 1997 holds a special place. It was a time pre-internet, when scrunchies were boss and saying boss was okay. It was a time when we were all falling in love, mainly with fictional characters in adolescent movies that were deliciously ‘of the now’.
Sadly, while age has wearied us it has positively decimated the films we knew and loved. The boyfriends we wanted to marry turned out to be abusive losers, criminals and time wasters. I’m sorry to spoil your childhood memories, but it’s time to strike these festive outings off your nostalgia list.
1. 16 Candles
Molly Ringwald’s Samantha was an Everygirl. We didn’t all just want to be her - we felt like we were her. And man, did we feel her unrequited crush on Jake Ryan. He was the quintessential tall, dark and handsome guy whose popularity wouldn’t stop him from seeing the uber babes we knew we were inside. But after giving up all hope at movie’s end, there he stands, leaning against his fancy red sports car, waiting to make all her dreams come true. (It’s probably one of the only times in Hollywood history where the nerdy girl wins the guy without having to endure a movie makeover. So, points I guess for that.)
Except that 16 Candles is not only rife with cheap racism, it’s cavalier about sexual assault. Worse, Jake Ryan - the beau hunk himself - is the one who orchestrates it. In exchange for information about Sam, he offers The Geek the opportunity to drive his girlfriend Caroline home and basically gives him permission to do whatever he likes as long as he doesn’t leave her abandoned in a parking lot somewhere. (This is after he tells The Geek that if he were interested in her anymore, he could go into his bedroom where she’s passed out cold and ‘violate her ten different ways’. ‘What are you waiting for?’ The Geek splutters.) But worst of all is when The Geek and Caroline wake up in the car the next morning. Despite neither of them really remembering the previous night’s ‘activities’, The Geek asks Caroline if she enjoyed herself. ‘You know,’ she replies, ‘I have this weird feeling I did!’
80s movies. Encouraging hilariously rapey ‘sexcapades’ enjoyed by beta males, and making it an extra triumph for them because the girl really enjoyed it. (See also: Revenge of the Nerds.)
In short: JAKE RYAN IS A BAD MAN WHO BELONGS IN JAIL.
Show me a little girl who didn’t want to be a mermaid at some point in her life and I’ll show you an exception to the rule. Let’s face it, who didn’t climb into their bathtub after watching this Daryl Hannah/Tom Hanks vehicle and make a ruddy mess waving a pretend fin about?
The story of Splash! seemed impossibly romantic. As a young boy, Tom Hanks is rescued by a mergirl and deposited back to shore. He can’t forget her, so imagine his surprise when the very same mermaid all grown up saves him over 20 years later! What are the odds?!
In love herself (deep connections are so easy in the movies), the mermaid heads to New York to find him. Fortunately for the mermaid (who settles on the name ‘Madison’ after seeing it on a street sign), the script-writers have arranged it so that her tail turns into legs when she’s out of the salt water. In a city of literally millions of people, she finds Hanks’ Allen pretty quickly. It’s like it was meant to be! Despite some turmoil in the third act that maybe, maybe not involves some sneaky developers and a recital to save the community centre, everything turns out fine and they live happily ever after in a glass city deep underneath the ocean.
Or do they? When I re-watched the movie as an adult, I was horrified by how abusive and controlling Allen was. He literally patronises Madison for being stupid and weird all throughout the movie, tells her he loves her WAY too early on and then, in the most damning scene of all, breaks down the locked door of the bathroom in the middle of the night because he wakes up to find that she’s having a bath and she doesn’t want to be disturbed.
In short: It’s a total blueprint for violent behaviour, and they should screen it in high schools as a warning. SAY NO TO SPLASH.
3. Reality Bites
Oh, Lelaina Pierce. No one wore a doily quite like you. The quartet at the centre of Reality Bites channelled the 90s in a way that, despite knowing what I know now, still seems magical. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t 23 in 1994 - I knew that when I was 23, that’s exactly what I wanted my life to look like. And I wanted it to include Winona Ryder’s pixie hair and impossibly luscious boobs.
And then there was Troy. Beautiful, jaded, emotionally unavailable Troy. He was the epitome of the Bad Boy with the heart of a poet just waiting for a woman to save him. His philosophical tirades cut through the bullshit of a capitalist machine run amok. He played guitar in a band. He knew the correct definition of ‘irony’. He answered the phone with dry witticisms like, ‘Hello, you’ve reached the winter of our discontent.”
He screws Lelaina and breaks her heart of course. Because he’s scared, see? Luckily, he realises that she is the only woman who can make sense of his life and make it mean something and so he returns to deliver a speech through weeping eyes as the sun sets over the Seattle skyline. It’s beautiful and passionate and as a 12 year old I thought it was exactly what I wanted.
And now I’m like…..ehhhhhh. Take a goddamn shower Troy, your hair is disgusting! And stop quoting Shakespeare on your answering machine, you sound like a massive d-bag. SHUT UP.
At 12, Troy Dyer might have been my own beau-hunk but at 32 he just makes me want to be sick all over myself as punishment for even entertaining the fantasy of having sex with him. Troy Dyer is a grown up woman’s worst nightmare. He will spend all of Lelaina’s money, develop a crushing pot habit and then leave her ten years later for a 21 year old who ‘understands him in a way that she never can’. Troy Dyer is a LOSER.
Still, Reality Bites had a cracking script. It’s still eminently watchable for that reason alone. Janeane Garafalo as Vickie is a treat. Also WINONA 4 EVA.
Big: Because it’s weird that Tom Hanks’ 13 year old inner boy child has sex with Elizabeth Perkins.
Revenge of the Nerds: As stated above, this one includes the trope of nerd raping a cheerleader but getting away with it because his penis is just like, so amazing.
The Breakfast Club: A minor quibble, but Emilio Estevez only makes goo goo eyes at Ally Sheedy when she gets a pinkified makeover.
Pretty Woman: Do we really need to say why?
Teen Wolf/Dream A Little Dream/16 Candles again and about a million other movies: Major points loss for liberal use of the word ‘fag’.
Pretty In Pink: Because Blaine.