Sam wants what every kid wants for their sixteenth birthday: a date, a car, and maybe some cake. But a bunch of her problems would be solved if she wished for what every sixteen-year-old needs: some self-confidence.
Sam's insecure, just like we all are at sixteen. The main thing she's insecure about is her body. In the very first scene, we see her giving herself a pep talk in the mirror.
SAM: You need four inches of bod and a great birthday.
Okay, one of those goals is achievable. An extra four inches to her bust? Probably not going to happen in a day, if ever. But in order for her to achieve the "great birthday" goal, Sam needs to be proactive.
She starts the movie expecting everything to happen to her. She expects her family to wish her happy birthday (which, honestly, they should). She expects Jake to ask her out. And she expects to live happily ever after.
But there's a snag when it comes to her waiting for Jake Ryan to swoop in on his white horse and ride off with her into the sunset. Okay, two snags: he doesn't have a horse. And the other is explained by Sam's best girlfriend Randy, the voice of reason.
RANDY: Jake Ryan? He doesn't even know you exist.
SAM: Thank you, that's a very nice thing to say.
RANDY: I'm sorry, but Jake Ryan? He's a Senior, and he's taken. I mean really taken.
Sam knows she's doomed when it turns out Jake is "really taken." He's takener than any man you've ever known before. He's the takenest. What's a girl to do?
New Year, New You
Sam wallows in her misfortune for a while as if her life is over. And being in high school, unpopular and without a boyfriend, it might as well be.
SAM: It's a brand new year, I'm sixteen, everything should be platinum. I should be happy, right? Right? […] Well I can't get happy. It's physically impossible for me to get happy.
To avoid a lifetime of misery, Sam wants a date with Jake Ryan, but she's too nervous to ask him. Her nervous is rooted in her insecurity. She isn't afraid to truthfully speak her mind to the Geek when he asks her out, because she sees herself as better than a geek. But she sees herself as below Jake Ryan on the popularity scale. Talking to him would be like a commoner approaching Queen Elizabeth and calling her "Lizzie."
Sam's honest, though, and her honesty ends up rewarding her during the auto shop talk with the Geek. He confesses to her that he is a virgin, and she does the same.
SAM: I'm sort of saving myself. It's really stupid, he doesn't even know I exist.
If she'd lied to make herself look better, or if she had continuing being mean to the Geek, she would never have revealed her crush on Jake Ryan. When she does, it allows the Geek to set things in motion and eventually get Sam with Jake in the end. Honesty is definitely the best policy.
In the end, though, Sam doesn't have to do anything else. She forgives her family for forgetting her birthday, which is nice. But Jake just shows up after her sister's wedding, and she rides off with him. She's happy though, at least for the day after her birthday, and that's what matters.
Considering her family forgetting her birthday was the worst day in her life, it's all uphill from there.
With Sam, John Hughes created the stereotypical teen movie heroine. She's the ultimate cool girl around friends and family. She dresses with style, makes droll comments to her best pal, and rolls her eyes at her annoying brother.
But around boys she has a crush on, Sam is an adorable mess. She walks the line between the girl you want to be, and the girl you already are. (Even if you're a boy.)
Although she may come across as self-absorbed at times, what teenager isn't? Plus, she does quite a few good deeds for others. Although she may complain to her friend about wearing an ugly bridesmaid's dress, Sam sucks up her annoyance at her sister and participates in her wedding without a peep to her family. That's pretty awesome.
She also never leads anyone on. She may come across as harsh when she shoots down the Geek, but it would be even crueler to toy with him. Once he opens up to her, and reveals himself to be more than just a perv, she helps him out in return.
THE GEEK: Not many girls in contemporary American society today would give their underwear to help a geek like me.
Okay, he's still a perv, but he's not just a perv. That's not important here. What is important is that Sam's a girl you want to have on your side.
Molly Ringwald's performance helps make Sam your fictional BFF. Ringwald wasn't a college grad pretending to be high school student. (We love you Kristen Bell, but we're looking at you, you twenty-four-year old high school junior.)
Ringwald was literally sixteen when she played Sam, so she knew that the teen struggle was real. Hughes made the right move choosing Ringwald to portray this character, making her into a timeless teen icon.