I already know what you Jakettes are going to say. How could I possibly crush more on Michael Schoeffling as a Depression-era diving horse showman instead of his more famous turn as Sixteen Candles' Jake Ryan, the most perfect senior boy to ever attend high school anywhere, ever, period, end of story? Well, here's what I say to you: of course Jake Ryan is the bees' knees, and quite possibly one of the dreamiest love interests ever to make teenage hearts swoon. But if you're a true fan of model-turned-actor who all but disappeared after his brief seven year acting career, then you hold Michael Schoeffling's last screen credit close to your wild heart because your crush on the man extends beyond his turn as Jake Ryan. And that crush cannot be broken.
In truth, I took the backwards route of getting to know the all-too brief film career of Michael Schoeffling. The first film of his that I saw was also his last: 1991's Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, the live-action Disney joint based on the true story of a girl who rode diving horses in 1920's Atlantic City. A pre-Scent of a Woman Gabrielle Anwar starred as Sonora Webster, the film's spunky heroine, who wills her way into Doc Carver's horse diving circus act, becomes their star rider, and loses her eyesight in a horrible diving accident but keeps on trucking. Then again, what scrappy Depression-era diamond in the rough wouldn't get her mojo back with a guy like Michael Schoeffling's Al Carver by her side?
As Al, Schoeffling is a hunky love interest who is integral to Sonora's life story whose dreaminess, thankfully, doesn't overshadow her remarkable life story. At first he's Sonora's kinda inappropriate older man crush (he's in his 20s and she's so young that she can't even fill out those old timey ladies' swimsuits) and it's suggested that he and the company's prima donna diver, Marie (played by Kathleen York, who went on to become an Oscar-nominated songwriter) have a little something going on. Or maybe Marie's just jealous that a flat-chested orphan girl is stealing her thunder. Either way, Marie bounces and Al and Sonora bond over horsies, but right when they start falling in love he has a falling out with his dad and splits.
Al's a guy who has big dreams but more importantly, he encourages Sonora to follow hers. Well, to a point; once she's blinded later in Atlantic City,he fears for her safety until he knows she can learn to ride again. But early on in the film, when we're crushing on him along with the young Sonora, Schoeffling's Al is a strapping young man and a gentle-voiced champion of gutsy, fearless dames in training.
See how he treats her with kindness as she awkwardly attempts to dress herself like a real grown woman! Swoon as he stands, worried on the sidelines, as she gets bloody while mastering the moving mount! Feel for him as he storms out of his father's house, hurt from years of never being good enough! (Watch a clip here.) And just try to stop your heart from leaping out of your chest when he walks back into Sonora's life one rainy day, just in time to help her save the life of Lightning, her beloved horse!
Sure, Jake Ryan was the role for which most people will always remember Michael Schoeffling. But did Jake Ryan get his girlfriend a prime time gig in Atlantic City and help her re-learn her act when she went blind? And all while wearing old timey jodhpurs?
For whatever reason, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken was Michael Schoeffling's last acting gig. Rumor has it he retired shortly thereafter to be a carpenter and now resides with his wife and kids in Pennsylvania, where he owns his own furniture making shop. Other highlights from his ten-film career include Mermaids, Vision Quest, the Cannes entry Belizaire the Cajun, and the Merchant-Ivory bomb-turned-cult flick Slaves of New York, but Wild Hearts still remains my fave. What can I say? That's why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they'd call them something else.
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