16 Wishes is the sort of sickeningly sweet bubblegum teen girl comedy that makes parents fear for their daughters’ sanity. Watching it gave me a toothache. There is such an overload of hollow pop music, bedazzled costumes, and neon pink everything that responsible adult viewers might emerge from the experience with a contact high. Momentary solace can result from the comforting realization that the world is not truly as these movies depict it to be, but that evaporates when one ponders the notion that with enough influences like this, it one day might.
Teen celebrities have long been interchangeable, and that fact has never been so unfortunately true than in this current point in Hollywood culture, when most teens have no problem suspending disbelief when Miley Cyrus puts on a blond wig and transforms into the world’s most famous pop star. It should be noted, then, that 16 Wishes stars Disney tween sensation Debby Ryan, not Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale, Vanessa Hudgens, Victoria Justice, or their current Queen Bee, Ms. Cyrus. Debby Ryan seems a little younger and less seasoned than her easily mistakable veteran counterparts, though if her work in this film receives any exposure whatsoever, her star could rise precipitously. This is precisely the sort of simpering, TV-tastic teen saga that glues young girls to their flat-screens and sub-textually pounds the name of the next Teen Beat cover girl into their impressionable minds.
Debby plays Abby (try not to get too confused), whose 16th birthday arrives amid a heap of problems. Her brother annoys her because he plays air guitar. Her parents snap a picture of her before she has coiffed her hair. And then a swarm of wasps descends on her home. With problems like these, it’s lucky that a fairy godmother arrives to grant Abby the 16 wishes she has kept posted on her wall since third grade! The godmother (Anna Mae Routledge) only looks slightly older than Abby, and has the odd tendency to show up in a variety of creative “disguises,” like guidance counselor and pizza delivery girl, in what must be some uncomfortable reference to the Bruce Willis celestial guide from Rob Reiner’s infamous North.
So goes the rest of the movie…when Abby blows out one of her 16 magical birthday candles, one of her childhood wishes comes to fruition, which at first is a gleeful hoot, but which soon turns serious — though only serious in the manner of Back to the Future Part II, when Marty realizes his actions have altered his neighborhood into a crime ghetto and Biff has bought his mother breast implants. Similarly, each successive wish alters Abby’s world in negative ways, until she finally realizes — whaddya know?! — life isn’t too bad after all. I suppose it’s intended to be vaguely Tarantinoan that Abby’s wishes are granted out of order, so that the third comes before the second, the seventh before the twelfth, and so forth. This particular fact has neither payoff nor consequence, other than Abby apparently gets to choose whichever wish fits that unique moment in the screenplay.
There is also a long-suffering boy best friend who harbors a secret crush on Abby, a lifelong nemesis who conveniently shares Abby’s birthday, and numerous cliques of mindless automatons who set the bar for high school awesomeness. Wouldn’t it be great if all these warring factions could come together in a massively expensive outdoor birthday blowout, setting all differences aside to, if only for one night, join together and dance to faux-punk rock? If the filmmakers get their wish, they just might.