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Reflections on Jake Ryan of the John Hughes Film 'Sixteen Candles'

The memorable final scene of  "Sixteen Candles" finds Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) finally catching her crush, Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling).
The memorable final scene of "Sixteen Candles" finds Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) finally catching her crush, Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). (1991 Universal City Studios)

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 14, 2004

Listen to all the Thompson Twins songs you want, but let's finally admit that Jake Ryan from "Sixteen Candles" is never coming to get you.

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Not in the red Porsche 944, and not wearing that Fair Isle sweater vest. Not with his shiny black hair moussed gently heavenward, not with his gooey brown eyes and square Matt Dillonesque jaw. He will not be standing there with his hands in the pockets of his 501 button-fly jeans (while leaning against said Porsche), and he will not be shyly waving at you from across the street. ("Yeah, you," he mouths, just as in the movie, after you look behind you to see what girl he could possibly be interested in.)

Let's be even more clear: Popular high school seniors don't dump their cheerleader girlfriends with great bods so they can ask out a sophomore girl nobody notices. Jake did not actually do this, because he is not real.

This last fact has not stopped many, many women (and not a few men on the refreshment committee) from wishing there was such a thing as Jake Ryan.

Jake Ryan, Jake Ryan, Jake Ryan. Write his name in loopy cursive on a piece of loose-leaf notebook paper and pass it on. Even though it has been two decades since the release of John Hughes's high school comedy "Sixteen Candles," there are women out there in their late-twenties to mid-thirties (and even younger, including teenage girls today who weren't even around in that era) who to this day are still pining for a fictional character, the perfect high school crush.

"Jake Ryan? He's only the most popular boy in school," goes a line from the movie. The simple utterance of his name is enough to add salt to the wound of Valentine's Day.

"He's the whole package," says Andrea Danyo, 28, who does public relations work for National Public Radio. "Even just the name has become something. I swoon when I hear it. . . . For just about all of my friends, 'Jake Ryan' is a given moniker for the ideal boy, as in, 'Yeah, it was a good date, but he's clearly no Jake Ryan.' "

"You had to believe in him," says Amy Kramer, 34, a producer for "Good Morning America" based in Washington. "The world would have been a much better place if everybody had a Jake Ryan. That movie came out when I was 15, and imagine being a 15-year-old and you find out there's a terrific, handsome, popular, rich guy who breaks up with the bitchy gorgeous cheerleader and actually notices the quirkily smart but not exactly attractive redhead. . . . And don't ever forget this, Jake Ryan was the guy who got back her panties from the geeks and did not make a big deal of it and didn't tell the whole school about it. And the same thing with the 'sex test' that she filled out and then dropped on the floor, which Jake found. Did he then show it to all his friends? No, he did not. If that happened now, that sex test would be scanned and on the Internet in two seconds. Oh, gosh, Jake Ryan. Just thinking about it now, I get . . . kind of . . . It's all just too good to be true."

It turns out the hardworking women of the broadcast milieu have lots of thoughts about Jake Ryan.

Kramer attributes her own advanced studies in Jakeology to the many weekends she used to work at CNN, where the television on her desk received only Ted Turner's channels, which have long had a habit of rerunning the John Hughes teen movie oeuvre ad nauseam Saturday afternoons. (And anyone who went to high school in the 1980s understands how difficult it can be to turn away from "Sixteen Candles" or "The Breakfast Club" or "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," no matter how busy they are, how many times they've seen it, or how many commercial breaks come along.)

Women who fell hard for Jake Ryan have for years secretly harbored the idea of the one true and perfect boyfriend who (through some Hollywood miracle we're never quite made to understand) notices the freckly, insecure wallflower Samantha Baker, played by Molly Ringwald, whose family has forgotten her 16th birthday. Ringwald stands in for Everygirl, who, on some subconscious level, hated being a teenager.

In the movie's happy ending, it turns out Jake (played by long-ago vanished model-actor Michael Schoeffling) has just as big of a crush on Samantha. He shows up at the end and takes her away to his big, rich house and gets her a birthday cake aglow with candles. This image of them sitting on top of the dining room table burned hot and permanent into the post-boomer female psyche.


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