I was thirteen when Sixteen Candles came out. More than any other movie, Sixteen Candles both was me and made me.
In Sixteen Candles, John Hughes taught me what it was to be a teenager in America in the 80’s. He showed me how to be cool without being a cool kid.
Most of all—for better or worse—he taught me about love.
Like me, Sam (Samantha, she would insist) had a complicated family. Hers, of course, was the idealized version, while mine was real, messy, and painful. I could easily imagine my family forgetting my sixteenth birthday—and by the time it rolled around, I would wish they had.
Like me, Samantha felt separate— from her family, from the other kids at school, from the boy of her dreams. Jake.
Could any boy be more perfect than Jake? Well, yes, of course. The first time we see him he’s zoning out in class, chiseled jaw in hand. He barely knows Sam exists— his interest in her begins when he intercepts a note in which she admits she wants to have sex with him. (Sex and adolescence are inextricably connected in John Hughes’s movies—as, let’s be honest, they are in real life.) But, we quickly find out, Jake’s “interested in more than a party.” He’s had it with his shallow but gorgeous girlfriend, Caroline (the first image we see of her is a close up of her perfect breasts—I hated her immediately.)
What follows is an hour of pure, unmitigated longing. Sam wants Jake desperately. But he is utterly unattainable. He’s “a senior and he’s beautiful and perfect. I like him a real lot,” she tells her father, in a scene that BROKE MY HEART, “and he doesn’t like me, okay?”
I could cry RIGHT NOW.
And her father says the thing that every teenage girl wants to hear and wants desperately to believe: “When it happens to you, Samantha, it’ll be forever.”
And this is my beef with John Hughes. You made me believe, Mr. Hughes. You made me believe that the longing and the longing and the longing would lead inevitably to a happy ending. That, one day, there would be a Jake, and that he would look at me and I would look at him, and we would know.
It happened for Samantha, didn’t it? She comes out of the church in her silly bridesmaid’s dress with those silly flowers on her head, and the cars clear away, and suddenly, like magic, there’s Jake (and his red Porsche, which is way, way better than the black Transam Sam wanted), and we know that even though these two people have never actually exchanged more than three words, this is the beginning of something huge and real and forever.
This is love. And love is really, really awesome.
But life isn’t a movie, and love isn’t that forthcoming. It’s been twenty-four years since I watched Sixteen Candles for the first time. I’m thirty-seven now, and beginning the process of starting a family on my own. The biggest thing missing from the life I imagined at thirteen is that there is no Jake-- which, as tragedies go, doesn't rank very high. In general, my life is quite good. Just different than what I expected.
Still I can’t let go of the dreamy wish that one day, there will be a guy—no chiseled jaw required— who looks at me and says, “Yeah, you.”