Why Jake Ryan From Sixteen Candles Ruined Me
Sixteen Candles is a fun, silly, wonderful, and fairly clever ’80s film (and yes, it is also deeply problematic, but that would be an entirely different post). It’s a movie where the geek gets the girl, the lowerclassman gets the senior guy, and all those deserving of it get their just desserts. (Darlings, what does that phrase even mean? Because desserts as justice for wrongdoings doesn’t exactly sound like a punishment. It’s basically the precursor to, “Cake or death?”)
My birthday is next month. It’s always been a happy time in my life. I don’t give two canned fucks about getting older. I still climb through fences instead of opening the gate. I will do cartwheels for the hell of it. And I love comics. Age is just a number, and I like what I like. Red lipstick, X-Men, cooking, and wearing my PJs on Sundays.
But my birthday, for years now, always makes me think of the end of Sixteen Candles. You know, when Jake Ryan shows up at Sam’s sister’s wedding, unexpectedly, because he finds out she’s interested in him, realized he’s interested in her, and just…shows up. Kind of like magic.
The ending shot is of Jake and Sam sitting cross-legged on a dining room table (why? I don’t know.) with a birthday cake between them. You see, throughout this entire crazy movie, it turns out that her family forgot her birthday, because of the aforementioned sister’s wedding (officiated by the amazing woman who starred in the ORIGINAL Poltergeist. We shall not speak of the remake. *hisses*).
Sam thanks Jake for getting her underwear back (which she loaned Farmer Ted, aka Anthony Michael Hall, back when he was still skinny and not a domestic abuser!). He says happy birthday. And they both lean forward and kiss over the birthday cake that he’s presumably got her. (Full disclosure: if I tried that, I’d accidentally light my hair on fire, because Rapunzel problems.)
Now, every year when my birthday comes around, there’s always this lingering hope in the back of my mind. The impossible desire for something seemingly out of reach, because life isn’t an ’80s movie. But it’s still there, that insanely stupid want. That lit up expectation that never gets said out loud. I’ve come to expect it, even when I’ve tried like hell to push it away. You can’t push the heart away, even though we sometimes try.
Jake, without any ulterior motive, just shows up. He shows up to indicate that he cares about Samantha. That he is interested in her. And he goes the extra mile not only to return her pink, strawberry-decorated underwear – but he comes armed with a charming smile and a birthday cake.
Maybe it’s not a pink trans am and having sex on a cloud, but as far as fantasies go, that isn’t bad. It seriously gave me unrealistic expectations about my birthday, despite nearly 33 years of life. There’s always a small part of me that hopes, that cranes its head toward the magic of maybe. There’s a small space in my heart that allows for the idea that sometimes life is a crossroads between what is and what can be, and there are some of us always standing there.
And you know what? Even if I live to be 90 and that Jake Ryan moment never happens? That’s okay. Because I think I’d like to hold on to the idea that it’s always possible. That while life is certainly not a movie, and no guy is every going to be Jake fucking Ryan, I think it’s that kind of small belief that keeps a heart open.
And who knows, truly, what this coming birthday may bring?