The star of the iconic ‘80s movie addresses some of the film’s more problematic moments.
You all remember the scene. Jake Ryan – the gorgeous, hunky, dreamboat of a boy Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) – and Ted Farmer (Anthony Michael Hall) stand in a kitchen at a party in a pivotal moment in director John Hughes’ beloved high school movie Sixteen Candles.
They’re discussing Caroline, Jake’s girlfriend, who has passed out drunk in a bedroom upstairs. Jake is becoming more and more interested in Sam (Molly Ringwald) and he’s trying to palm Caroline off onto Ted so that he can leave the party with her instead.
“I could get a piece of a** any time I want,” Jake tells Ted, nonchalantly. “I’ve got Caroline in the bedroom right now passed out cold. I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to.” Later, when he tells Ted to take Caroline home, he adds “she’s so blitzed she won’t know the difference.”
You all remember the scene because Sixteen Candles is a classic coming-of-age film as much a part of the adolescent experience as acne and unrequited crushes. But you probably also remember the scene because it is so unsettling.
Jake is supposed to be the platonic ideal of a boyfriend, the kind of girl that poor old Sam spends hours daydreaming about. But he also casually jokes about assault and doesn’t give a second thought to leaving his girlfriend in his dad’s car with another man for an evening. In fact, he actively encourages it. How can we reconcile our love for Jake Ryan with this kind of abhorrent behaviour?
It’s this that upsets actress Ringwald when she reflects back on the movie that made her a star at the age of 15. She wrote a powerful essay on that very subject for The New Yorker earlier this year, but today she doubled down, telling NPR that she feels “very differently about the movies now”.
“What was acceptable then is definitely not acceptable now and nor should it have been then, but that’s sort of the way it was,” the actress told NPR. “I feel very differently about the movies now and it’s a difficult position for me to be in because there’s a lot that I like about them. And of course I don’t want to appear ungrateful to John Hughes, but I do oppose a lot of what is in those movies.”
At the time, she added, she was uncomfortable with “parts of that film”, but that even though she was close with Hughes, she was also a 15-year-old on her first movie set. “Sometimes I would tell him, ‘Well I think that this is kind of tacky’ or ‘I think that this is irrelevant’ or ‘this doesn’t ring true’ and sometimes he would listen to me but in other cases he didn’t. And, you know, you don’t want to speak up too much. You don’t want to cross the line. Or at least that’s the way I felt at the time.”
Ringwald is in the unique position of having starred in projects for young audiences both as a teenager in the ‘80s and today, where she can be seen in the Archie reboot Riverdale and Netflix’s The Kissing Booth.
It’s those kinds of projects, like the indie movie Eighth Grade – which she described to NPR as borrowing “the best parts of John Hughes” – that she encourages her own teenage daughter to watch. She’s quick to stress, however, that she still wants her daughter to see Sixteen Candles and her other beloved films The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, too.
“I believe that there is still a lot of good in the films and there’s a lot that I’m proud of,” she told NPR. “I feel like in a lot of ways they’ve touched teenager and sparked a conversation that is important. And having a teenage daughter myself, I know that it’s not always easy to get teenagers to talk. But these films sort of break through that.”
In particular, she’s proud of The Breakfast Club for opening a dialogue between teenagers. “I feel like [it] sort of gives them permission to talk about their feelings – says that teenagers’ feelings really matter,” she told NPR. “I think that’s a really powerful message and for that reason I really love it.”