Michael Schoeffling and Molly Ringwald in 'Sixteen Candles'.

‘Sixteen Candles’ Heartthrob Jake Ryan Is Objectively Terrible … So Why Is He Still My Favorite Problematic Movie Boyfriend?

If you feel personally attacked that Sixteen Candles had its 40th birthday this month, well, friend, come sit next to me because same. Our slumber party staple VHS may now belong in a museum, but the movie’s love interest, Jake Ryan, is eternal.

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At the film’s 40th anniversary, I feel the need to talk about Jake Ryan, my favorite problematic movie boyfriend. If you’re waiting for me to try to make excuses why some elements of Sixteen Candles really, really don’t hold up, I simply cannot, and we shouldn’t want to. In fact, a few years ago, the movie’s star Molly Ringwald, did a thoughtful public examination of the movie’s misogyny and other problematic issues.

“It’s hard for me to understand how John was able to write with so much sensitivity,” Ringwald wrote at the time, “and also have such a glaring blind spot.”

So let’s acknowledge that right now. The movie very much is a product of its time. There are many parts of it that are indefensible, and what’s tolerable in our mainstream movies has changed, for the better.

With that all said, this movie snuck into my life via late-night TV at a very tender time in my youth, as I was making the transition from little kid to teenager, and I love it dearly. For me, at its core, it’s about a young woman growing up, taking the initial steps to separate from her family and make her way into adulthood, and also, living out the teenage dream of having the most popular, handsome guy at school not only like you, but have your back.

Sixteen Candles is complete fantasy and if you didn’t hear the initial synth strings to “If You Were Here” by The Thompsons Twins as soon as you saw the header image, you probably don’t get where I’m coming from. That’s OK! There’s a lot not to like about Jake Ryan—how he treats his girlfriend Caroline (Haviland Morris) is abhorrent as he essentially facilitates her sexual assault. As a young teen, though, I was more focused on how he got Sam’s underwear back for her from the nerds, didn’t make her feel weird about it, and he, and he alone, remembered her birthday. (It also helps he’s incredibly dreamy in the conventional heartthrob way specifically meant to appeal to young teen girls.)

Seeing this movie at thirteen and wanting to be seen for who I was, not the kid I used to be, the desire to be seen—really seen—was incredibly strong. Having the most popular and coolest guy at school notice Samantha was an incredible wish fulfillment at the time. (And lets be honest, it still is. Who doesn’t want someone else they have a crush on to see them for who they are?) Jake dumps his popular, gorgeous, party girl, senior girlfriend, and then picks Samantha, the quiet sophmore with no social cache. How often does this happen in real life? I’ll tell you in my experience, at least, never!

I’ve been chasing Jake Ryan ever since. As a grown woman, I fully understand that real life isn’t like the movies, and some guy I’ve been crushing on will never pull up in his Porsche and whisk me away from a family obligation I didn’t want to participate in. (And if he did, I’d probably learn he had some scumbag tendencies and a history of treating his exes terribly, just like Jake.) However, I saw this movie at an incredibly impressionable age, and Jake Ryan, along with Say Anything’s Lloyd Dobler, is imprinted on my soul as the ideal partner.

Now, look, do I think Samantha and Jake had a happily ever after? Absolutely not. They probably dated until he left for college and it fizzled away. That’s OK. The crux of this movie’s success is not that they were perfect for each other, it’s that the nerdy girl got the hot, desirable guy! It’s a damn win for the underdog, and both Samantha and Jake are happy about it!

This is why Jake Ryan is my favorite, extremely problematic movie boyfriend: He’s wish fulfillment at its finest. Now excuse me while I go put on “If You Were Here” and stare out the window, just in case someone is waiting for me by their sports car.

(featured image: Universal / Courtesy: Everett Collection)


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Author
Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.