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Movie fans of a certain age are filled with gleeful nostalgia at the mention of actress Molly Ringwald, who epitomized the teenage experience for the ’80s generation. As we celebrate her milestone 50th birthday on Feb. 18, we also celebrate how Ringwald is endlessly cool no matter what decade we’re in — and why she’s still the best friend we want to hang out with at the mall.
Because she was the teenager we wanted to be
Of course, we couldn’t talk about Ringwald without bringing up her most memorable contributions to film: her roles as rich snob Claire in The Breakfast Club; smitten — and forgotten — birthday girl Samantha in Sixteen Candles; and outspoken outsider Andie in Pretty in Pink. Ringwald had a knack for translating the challenges of being a teenager into something we all connected with, and for always managing to get her dreamboat in the process — and for that, she’s forever our idol.
Because she took her teen star status seriously (but not too seriously)
Ringwald has spoken a lot about being a teen icon, and how she had always tried to present a positive message to her fan base. In an April 2010 interview with Jezebel about her movie For Keeps, in which she played a pregnant teen, she said, “I didn’t want to give the wrong message to teenagers. I sort of felt a certain responsibility — I mean, I was a very, very famous teenager and I thought a lot of teenagers were looking up to me and emulating me, and I really didn’t want to make a movie that said in any way that having a baby at that age was going to be easy.” Still, she was happy to lampoon the genre for which she’s known best in 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie.
Because she moved to Paris in her 20s
As Ringwald was starting to phase out of her teen dream career, bigger Hollywood roles came knocking … but instead of pursuing them, she lived out her dream of moving abroad and settled down in Paris. Beginning in 1992, she acted in foreign films and worked on becoming bilingual (she had a good start, having gone to a French high school, Lycée Français de Los Angeles.) As she told the L.A. Times, “Living in Paris has its own set of problems I have to deal with, but those problems, compared with living in L.A., to me are much better. Living as a celebrity or a famous person in L.A. can really get you down after a while.”
Because she makes moms look cool
Ringwald continues to grace the screen with her presence — and help redefine the “mom” role that used to be a one-dimensional, stereotypical character. In The Secret Life of the American Teenager, she played mom Anne Juergens to TV daughter Shailene Woodley’s Amy, and had a powerful arc that resulted in her coming out (and she even sang the show’s theme song). More recently, Ringwald has been playing mom to Archie Andrews on Riverdale, and she’s the kind of mom who isn’t afraid to bare her teeth to protect her kid.
Because she agrees her iconic films shouldn’t be remade
If Ringwald has any say in it, the Hollywood remake machine won’t touch her ’80s oeuvre — especially The Breakfast Club. “It’s interesting to have a modern take on certain things, but I don’t think it’s interesting to remake something the same way,” Ringwald told Yahoo Entertainment. “I think if they called it The Breakfast Club and remade the same movie with a different cast, I wouldn’t feel happy about it. I think it would dilute it for people. And not to mention, the movies still resonate as they are. I have people coming up to me at performances and speaking engagements, and they’re 12 and 11 years old, and they’re crying when they meet me because those movies are so meaningful to them. It’s crazy to me because those movies were made so long ago, but it speaks to so many generations.”
Because she wrote eloquently about Hollywood’s treatment of women
Ringwald is a published author and has written pieces for the New York Times in the past, so it’s no surprise her essay for The New Yorker, detailing her own experiences with Hollywood harassment, was powerful and potent. Among the revelations: a film director stuck his tongue down her throat on set, and a crew member pressed his erection against her, both when she was a young teen. She finished her essay with a passionate plea: “I hope that young women will one day no longer feel that they have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, backward and in heels. It’s time. Women have resounded their cri de coeur. Listen.”
Because she called out Jeffrey Katzenberg for his sexist remark about her
Though she didn’t call out Katzenberg by name, the internet jumped all over Ringwald’s covert mention of the Hollywood exec in her New Yorker piece and figured out his identity thanks to a 1995 Movieline interview. She wrote in her piece, “the head of a major studio — and, incidentally, someone who claims himself to be horrified by the Harvey [Weinstein] allegations — was quoted as saying, ‘I wouldn’t know [Molly Ringwald] if she sat on my face.’” Later, she added that he may have been misquoted, but “if he ever sent a note of apology, it must have gotten lost in the mail.” (Incidentally, Ringwald did get that apology, albeit a little late.)
Because she sings jazz
Ringwald’s jazz leanings are undoubtedly due to her dad, who was a jazz pianist. As she shared with Yahoo, “I grew up singing jazz, so I listened to a lot of jazz … but I did it secretly because there weren’t a lot of teens listening to jazz.” She backed up that passion with the release of a jazz CD, Except Sometimes, in 2013. She’s talked about plans to record another one soon. We hope there’s a tour in the works too.
Because her Twitter feed is a delight
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Ringwald’s social media presence is the perfect blend of pop culture awesomeness, mom realness, and passionate political awareness. Recently, for example, the actress tweeted her appreciation for taking part in a celebration for author Judy Blume, A+-level snark aimed at Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct apology, and mother-daughter discourse over casting in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
“Against the sound advice of my 13 year old daughter, I’m just gonna say it. I like the new Rodrick. #rodrick,” Ringwald tweeted. We’ve got your back, Molly!
And, um, wanna hang out?