On Tuesday, I read Brat, the new memoir from actor Andrew McCarthy.
Though McCarthy is, today, a busy travel writer, he was a movie star in the 80s, staring in a handful of film that are still popular and being discovered by new audiences today. He starred opposite Molly Ringwald in Pretty In Pink and anyone who says that Molly should have ended up with Jon Cryer instead of Andrew McCarthy is a liar. He was a part of the ensemble of St. Elmo’s Fire. He starred in the film adaptation of Less than Zero. He spent a Weekend at Bernie’s. And, of course, he was labeled as being a member of the Brat Pack.
Brat pretty much centers on McCarthy’s life in the 80s, going from his time in acting school to his first starring role in Class to his decision to star in the critically-derided but still surprisingly popular Weekend at Bernie’s. It’s a quick but honest read and McCarthy emerges as someone who was somehow cocky enough to know that he could be star but also so insecure that, once he became a star, he wasn’t really capable of enjoying it. Reading the book, one gets the feeling that McCarthy spent the 80s feeling as if things had come too easily for him. He landed the starring role in the first film for which he ever auditioned. He starred opposite Molly Ringwald at a time when she was a superstar. And, yet, he was miserable for much of the time, a victim of his own nagging anxiety. He dealt with his insecurity by drinking and eventually, though the book doesn’t go into too much detail about it, using cocaine. He mentions that he never worked while on coke until he ended up on the miserable set of Less than Zero, which is one of the most heavy-handed anti-drug films ever made.
Brat is a good read. McCarthy is an engaging writer and he writes about the past with a refreshing lack of bitterness. In fact, the only thing he seems to be truly upset about is the fact that he got tarred with the Brat Pack label and he has every right to be upset that. As McCarthy points out, the Brat Pack label came about as the result of an article that detailed a night out with Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, and Emilio Estevez. McCarthy wasn’t even present that night. He was only mentioned once in the article, when one of the three said that they felt McCarthy wasn’t going to make it because he always played his roles with “the same intensity.” McCarthy’s feelings were hurt, especially since the article didn’t specify which of the three said it. (One gets the feeling that Emilio Estevez — who, in every chronicle of the Brat Pack era, comes across as being the most judgmental, entitled, and pompous member of the group — was probably the guilty party.) But yet, because McCarthy appeared in St. Elmo’s Fire and in Pretty in Pink, he was tarred with the label and it was pretty much the beginning of the end of his stardom. He mentions that, years later, Emilio Estevez refused to do a movie if McCarthy was cast, specifically because he didn’t want the movie to be a “brat pack” film. Again, Emilio comes across as being a bit of a prick.
With a few exceptions, McCarthy is generous when discussing most of his co-stars. He liked working with Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, and Jacqueline Bissett. He writes that he and Molly Ringwald were never quite as close as those of us who love Pretty in Pink like to think. He says that he and Jon Cryer did not get along in the 80s but that they’ve since become friends. That was nice to read. He writes about watching Robert Downey, Jr. go crazy one night. (In Downey’s defense, he was ordered to do so by the director of Less than Zero as an exercise to help McCarthy get into character. Unfortunately, no one bothered to let McCarthy know what was going on.) He writes ruefully about a date with Elisabeth Shue. Judging from his memoir, McCarthy met and impressed a lot of people but he rarely felt like he was good enough to be a part of their lives. It’s kind of sad. Sometimes, Andrew McCarthy comes across as being so vulnerable that you just want to reach out and hug him.
Fortunately, this is a survivor’s memoir. McCarthy survived the 80s and he’s still around, working and continuing to touch the heart of anyone who comes across Pretty in Pink. He sounds like he’s in a better place now than he was at the time of his biggest film successes. Brat is a good and honest memoir and a must-read for anyone who loves the films of the 80s.