was ten years old in 1989. It was at the beginning of the 1990s, while my friends were waiting in line to snap up the latest Babysitter’s Club book, I was waking up in the early hours of the morning to watch movies like Stand By Me or The Breakfast Club for the 87th time. And while those same friends were playing netball and buying their first MAC lipsticks, I was busy building my collection of Loverboy 45s. It was at the end of the decade of decadence that I discovered anything and everything produced for 1980s youth. Only now, at 22, as I come into my own as a grown-up, having traveled the world and survived a bunch of bad relationships, I find I understand a little more about Kirby’s infatuation with Dale in St Elmo’s Fire, and can better sympathize with Joan in About Last Night. And so, spotting Jenny Colgan’s latest novel in a high class bookstore recently, I found I couldn’t leave the store without it. Because, then and there, I realized, what I’ve been doing for the last few years of my life (while, admittedly, I was more partial to Judd Nelson), is looking for Andrew McCarthy.
Ellie, a child of the 1980s, is about to turn thirty. So, like every stereotypical British girl, time has come for a premature mid-life crisis. Ellie wonders why she doesn’t have a dream job, a dream house or a dream boyfriend. She wonders, essentially, why her life didn’t turn out as promised in so many John Hughes movies of yore. As the audience of such films, we were led to believe that Andie (Molly Ringwald) married the rich and gorgeous Blaine (McCarthy) in Pretty In Pink and went on to experience happiness and success. Ellie is so caught up in that very fantasy, the fantasy of living happily ever after with McCarthy, who she calls, “the coolest, wisest, most inspirational Brat Packer of them all” that it’s all she ever talks about with her friends and thinks about when on her own. Her life is so full of McCarthyism that she decides to travel all the way from London to America to find him and ask him why her life isn’t as perfect as he pledged. (I guess we’re overlooking Fresh Horses, or Less Than Zero ) Ellie’s friend, Julia, on the brink of wifehood, decides to come along, and so begins their adventure.
Ironically, it’s the 80s theme that drags the story down instead of carrying it. While Colgan’s references to 80s teen movies are surely supposed to awaken memories past, they are often so cheesy as to only bring forth a chuckle, if not simply a smirk. The entire book is structured around 80s movie references, (chapter titles include “Say Anything” and “Adventures In Babysitting”), yet Colgan can’t quite make up her mind as to whether her story is an homage to these movies or is simply using them as a gimmick around which to rewrite Bridget Jones’s Diary. In fact, similarities to Bridget Jones are plentiful. Ellie is experiencing all the angst of turning 30, she feels out of place in her peer group (which just has to include some ultra-flirty chicks and a flighty homosexual), loathes her job, is insecure around men and retains a close relationship with her dad. Though, I assume it must be difficult not to cross paths with Fielding when writing such similar subject matter, after all, Bridget herself did the same, being just an annoying, unconvincing, whiny version of Erica Jong’s delicious and far more daring Isadora Wing.
That aside, we are led to believe that Ellie is a walking Brat Pack encyclopedia, which left me wondering as to why she fails to recognize a number of resemblances in her own life to her so-called favorite movies. She fails to recognize her “headmastery” boss, Mr Rooney; her depressed Harry Dean Stanton in dad; Kansas City cops, Edgar and Alan (say it with me) Frog; or, (and this one was just idiotic), her saxophone-playing, Rob Lowe lookalike, layabout, cheating ex-boyfriend, Billy, as characters from the very movies she adores. Colgan surely envisioned the majority of McCarthy readers to be fellow fans of his films, so which one of us doesn’t know that Rob Lowe played the saxophone-playing, layabout, cheating ex-boyfriend in St Elmo’s Fire? And mores the point, why doesn’t Ellie, who supposedly lives her life by these movies (she makes reference to Emilio Estevez and Andie MacDowell in the same film)? If references such as these are Colgan’s attempt at cleverness, they don’t work. If they are supposed to be obvious, they only succeed in making Ellie look even more a twit than first thought, what with her constant whining and stupidity at the thought that she could just run around the streets of LA surely to bump into Mr McCarthy sooner or later.
So, while it was with some excitement that I picked up Looking For Andrew McCarthy, and while I did get a few giggles, I put it down with a sense of disappointment. Colgan obviously has a sense that the memories held by fans of 80s “Brat Pack” movies were important to those who buried themselves in the misadventures of the characters within them, but she has decided to disrespect those memories making her story more a parody than a tribute, much like the recent Not Another Teen Movie in which one encounters John Hughes High School, complete with Anthony Michael Dining Hall. How many 16-year-old moviegoers, you reckon, got that joke?
Among those parodied by Colgan are C. Thomas Howell, who supposedly spends his time wandering around cool LA nightclubs in search of older women who might recognize him); Judd Nelson (“He is such a Judd!” exclaims Julia at one point), and, perhaps saddest of all, Andrew McCarthy himself. McCarthy is raised, in the book, to God-like status, the Holy Grail of Holy Grails for a couple of film fans desperate to find answers in their changing lives. But, instead of making their journey heartfelt, and their attachments to their film idols honest, Colgan has left Ellie and Julia obvious caricatures of late 20s women struggling to find reassurance and personal freedom as they head into their 30s.
Colgan, it seems, also has little respect, also, for the man she admires turning him, with her book, back into what I am sure he has been for more than ten years—a 1980s teen movie staple. Looking For Andrew McCarthy is one of those books with too perfect a premise to actually hold any real substance. In the hands of another, maybe us Brat Pack fans could finally have had our stories told, but Colgan seems a surface fan with too little in depth knowledge, bar a few movie marathons with mates, to be the one to do it. The book often fails in its efforts to be cleverly witty, especially in those places Colgan attempts to exert her knowledge of all things Brat Pack forcing the era itself into cliché rather than allowing it cultural significance, which is what, I figured, she was going for.
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