Plot: Abby Jensen (Debby Ryan) hasn’t just dreamed about her sixteenth birthday, she has created a list of wishes. The list covers things that would give her the ultimate sweet sixteen, from the cutest clothes in school to a new car to of course, her crush finally showing some interest in her. But when she wakes up on that special day, none of her wishes have come true, though she is ambushed by her family, watches her rival across the street be given a new car, and she’s attacked by bees, forcing her to walk to school in her pajamas. On the way to school, a messenger brings her a gift box that holds some candles and instructions, telling her to light a candle and make a wish, then her list will come true. As it turns out, the candles are indeed magic and can grant her wishes, but will these wishes come with any surprises?
Entertainment Value: 16 Wishes is built on a well mined narrative, with someone’s wishes leading to unexpected consequences, but the tone is light and colorful, so it offers some brisk entertainment. The movie maintains a consistent, sometimes absurd sense of humor and while it touches on some teen oriented issues, it evades the more serious ones and focuses on lighter fare. No sex or serious social issues, more family drama or the value of friends, as well as some general feel good vibes as Abby learns that things in her life are more complicated than she knew. As I said, this one is brisk and colorful, with vibrant hues, vivid clothes, and pop inspired production design elements, so it feels like a teen comedy from top to bottom. The humor is over the top at times and always dialed up, so the movie doesn’t take itself seriously and delivers on what fans of the genre want. The pace moves at a nice clip and the movie rarely feels drawn out, save one section where Abby learns most of her lessons. Even so, 16 Wishes is a brisk, fun ride that has a charismatic lead and a quirky, colorful sense of humor.
The pop fueled visuals and offbeat humor help push 16 Wishes, but the main reason the movie works so well is lead Debby Ryan. She embraces the silliness of the material and isn’t afraid to drop the glamorous approach for some wackiness, though she also nails the more fashionable moments as well. Her skill set is a great fit for this role, as it isn’t one that requires intense dramatic elements, but focuses on a fun, upbeat performance with a lot of charm and charisma. Her sweet, goofy persona is just a lot of fun and she elevates the material a lot here. Jean-Luc Bilodeau is a passable, but forgettable part of the movie, while Karissa Tynes, Kendall Cross, and Cainan Wiebe provide solid roles from the supporting cast. But another crucial element of 16 Wishes is Anna Mae Wills, who is outrageous and beyond energetic as Celeste, bringing even more zaniness into the movie. I’m sure some will dismiss this as slight and silly, which it is, but for fans of Disney Channel style teen comedies, it is worth a look.