Brat: An ’80s Story

When I was finishing up primary school and moving into high school, Andrew McCarthy was one of the pin-up boys all the girls were into. For a period between 1985 and 1990 it felt like he was in ‘everything’ and had been around for ages, but I think that’s more a factor of my youth at the time. Back then, five years seemed like an eternity. These days it feels more like the blink of an eye.

Brat is an interesting memoir because, while it covers McCarthy’s youth and schooling in decent detail – leading up to a move to New York and small acting roles – by the time it gets to his superstardom, the book goes into fast-forward and flames out, not unlike his Hollywood career, leaving decades untouched upon. Sure, there are mentions of later hiking trips, and becoming a travel writer, and being a director on modern shows like, Orange Is the New Black, but none of it’s in any sort of great detail.

To put it succinctly, the book really is what is says on the cover – ‘an ’80s story’ – and not much else. If you’re a potential reader you need to be fine with that, because it’s all you’ll be getting!

I’ve got to say, my biggest takeaway from the book is how sensitive McCarthy is and, as a result, perhaps how unsuited to Hollywood he was during the 80s. When he talks about a big party on the Paramount lot, featuring a Who’s Who of Hollywood at that time (including a bunch from the Golden Age of Tinseltown), you can just imagine how someone like Tom Cruise is walking around the room, talking it up, while McCarthy stands on the wings, almost asking himself, “What am I doing here?”

Other anecdotes in the book will be well-known to McCarthy fans, including the famous story where Liza Minelli wants to take McCarthy and others to ‘Sammy’s’ – which McCarthy initially thinks will be a club, but turns out to be the home of Sammy Davis Jr. This is somewhat appropriate, given Davis Jr. was in the Rat Pack in the 60s, while McCarthy was famous in the 80s for being in the Brat Pack.

Ah, the Brat Pack. McCarthy really doesn’t like the term, even though he used part of it for the book’s title. He goes to particular pains to point out how the term originated (a journalist went out with a few of the guys who would be associated with the term and noted their behaviour out on the town), and how it was then applied to a group of actors via movies they’d been in together, but was never a real ‘thing’. Indeed, he goes to great pains to point out he barely hung out with, and didn’t even like, most of the Brat Pack. It wasn’t some gang he was out with, every night, laughing uproariously in 80s clubland, even though that’s probably the impression most of us would have, whenever we’d hear the term.

Something else I picked up on is that while McCarthy had ‘the look’ in the mid to late 1980s and it was inevitable that he’d be cast in particular roles that weren’t satisfying to him at the time, the book suggests in a few places that when he looks back now – decades later – there’s something neat about being able to see himself, bright and fresh, on the screen. Another section talks about the audience and how we react to the content because it’s the memory of the films that remind us of a time when we were younger too, with our whole lives ahead of us, with anything being possible. I think he’s right. I’ve actually never thought of it so succinctly before, or seen it written as such. A nice moment.

McCarthy makes no secret of his drinking through a large part of his early acting years. He presents it in a straightforward way, and doesn’t try and over-rationalise why he did it or find excuses. In some ways, he seems quite bewildered at why he did many of the things he did, which I think is the story of many of us, when we look back on our lives and think, why on earth did I say/do that, back then?

All told, I found Brat to be a good read. I was getting a bit itchy during his younger years to get beyond what was happening in high school and into ‘the meat’ of the story and hear about making films like St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Less than Zero, Mannequin, and Weekend at Bernies, but once we got into that era, the number of pages left in the book seemed quite tiny, which made me a bit stressful. Now that I reflect on it as a whole, and the mission to primarily tell ‘an 80s story’, I think the book works and succeeds in its mission. I just needed to finish it and reflect on it, to fully get my head around it.

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