Hi everyone, it’s Tim. Our host and founder might be gone for a little while, but with a little bit of luck, the rest of Team Film Experience will be around to keep the lights on, even without Nathaniel’s guiding hand to keep things on track. For example, you can expect to see my four-part series, "Michelle Pfeiffer: Decent, But She’s Sure No Renée Zellweger", beginning next week.
Kidding! Happy Birthday, Nathaniel, here's Michelle being all smoldering.
Anyway, as Nathaniel mentioned, it’s also his birthday, and in his honor, I’d like to go on a little tour of some of the all-time best cinematic birthdays.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
An unimaginative shoo-in for a list like this one, but that’s because the great chronicler of teen angst in America, John Hughes – making his directorial debut here – so perfectly captured the sense of wary hope and the expectation of disappointment that characterize every teenager’s inner monologue, especially those living in Hughes Land. The film expertly makes the small-scale crises that make up its largely observational, low-conflict plot seem every bit as massive and desperate to us as they do to Molly Ringwald’s Samantha Baker, whose desires after all really aren’t that daunting: she just wants to have her friends and family acknowledge what a big deal a sixteenth birthday is. The fact that even this little dream proves to be thwarted until the film’s terrific final moments makes Sixteen Candles one of the very best movies about the outsized drama of teen life, and the joy of having a birthday, ever made.
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
To be sure, an “unbirthday”; but the Mad Hatter and the March Hare rather have it right, don’t you think? The best part of a birthday is gorging yourself on cake and partying with your friends and making fun of your drunk friends, even if they come in mouse form, and maybe singing a ridiculous song or two. That’s all too much fun to limit it to once a year, and plus, the beauty of an unbirthday is that it doesn’t double as a mile marker for getting older. Besides, it’s the reason we have Ed Wynn’s Hatter, one of the very best vocal performances in Disney’s entire 1950s output.
Friday the 13th (1980)
“You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday”, announces axe-crazy Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) near the end of this seminal slasher movie. And just like that, a tawdry, shabbily-made thriller about a psychopath carving horny teenagers apart, turns into a tawdry, shabbily-made thriller about a mother who is very, very anxious to make sure that her dead son isn’t forgotten on his birthday. It’s a weirdly lopsided moment of tenderness that lends this particular psycho killer out of all psycho killers a humane core, while also giving the film a kind of warped justification that gives it a smidgen more dramatic heft than the average slasher flick. Just a smidgen, but it’s there.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
I have absolutely no theoretical framework for including this scene. It doesn’t say anything about birthdays or the way people celebrate them; I’m just endlessly delighted by the comic absurdity of replacing the stripper in a big novelty cake with a machine gun-toting Mafioso.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Serious again now, and this scene is quite possibly my all-time favorite birthday in a movie. It’s such a bittersweet little thing, capturing the saddest and sweetest of all birthdays: the kind celebrated by dirt-poor family where the presents are homemade, or tiny little notions that people had to save up good money for. Coming right at the start of a movie that has as much to do with financial wish-fulfillment as a fantasy world of amazing candy, the scene is a little bit heartbreaking, by contrasting the ridiculous extravagance of literally every other character in the movie besides the heroically impoverished Bucket family, the film quickly makes us feel awful for the hero, but by showing how clearly the family remains happy, even in the face of setbacks and adversity – I am primarily thinking of the sad but sweet way that Charlie has to cheer up the adults when he ends up being disappointed – the film keeps them from seeming too desperately pathetic. It is a birthday about being happy with family and comfort, and that is maybe the nicest kind.
And now, I’ll turn it over to you, readers: What’s your favorite birthday scene in a movie?