book review – Inside the Brat Pack

You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried by Susannah Gora

I had quibbles and quarrels with John Hughes’ work, but there was never any question in my mind that his most heartfelt films about the pain and awkwardness of growing up (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) spoke to teenagers everywhere. No one could have foreseen that those films and a handful of others (Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…, and Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire, co-written by Carl Kurlander) would make a lasting impression and influence a generation of filmmakers and musicians—not to mention an ever-growing legion of admirers. With the passion of a fan and the inquisitiveness of a good journalist,—

—author Gora has produced a book on the phenomenon of these 1980s movies that is as readable as it is informative. Based on her own observations and interviews with many of the people who made these films, among others, her lively book sets the films into the context of their time, explains why they stood out then—and why they continue to resonate today.

She also talks to journalist David Blum, who changed the lives, careers, and most importantly, perceptions of the leading actors in some of these movies when he labeled them “the Brat Pack” in a now-famous cover story for New York magazine. Even Blum is surprised, and a bit taken back, at how it affected those young performers and poisoned their relationships. (Gora doesn’t indulge in idle gossip but does track who was friendly with whom, who had crushes or bona fide relationships, and how that all panned out.)

Perhaps it’s just as well that Gora didn’t get to talk to John Hughes, who was interviewed extensively at the time these films were made. If she had actually made a connection with him she might have felt awkward about painting an honest portrait of the writer-director whose strong connection with teenagehood was both a gift—and a curse. Being able to tap into his adolescent emotions helped make these films effective, and inspired true friendships with some of his actors, but it seems that in some ways his emotional development was arrested at that age. A slight—or even a perceived slight—would cause him to cut people off without a word of explanation, including some people who felt especially close to him.

Gora captures these emotional truths behind-the-scenes as well as the moments onscreen that made Hughes and company so successful. It’s hard to believe that a quarter-century has passed since the first of these films appeared, but it’s true. That makes them part of movie—and pop culture—history, and they are well served by this excellent volume. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed for this book, and provided a quote for the back cover because I like the way it turned out.) (Crown Publishers)

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July 2024