Brats Matter

Let the past live in the past

Brats Matter
Pictured: Serious actor

This has been a pretty bad week in terms of finding time to write here. I'm starting a new book project, which has taken up some big chunks of time, and my wife and kids are on summer break, which I'm happy to take advantage of since we haven't all had a summer off together since... well, never, really. We're also getting ready for a trip out of town next week, which will leave me incommunicado for the duration. Finally, I'm doped up on cold medicine, so who knows if any of what's to follow will even make sense? Apologies in advance for this spotty patch; I'll make it up to you when I return.

In the meantime, I just finished Andrew McCarthy's Brats documentary and chased it with the Season 1 finale of Dark Matter, which proved to be a weird one-two punch for a couple of reasons. One, they couldn't be more different as far as form; two, they're actually thematically quite similar.

Here's what I mean. Dark Matter is a sci-fi series about a guy who figures out how to put a human being in superposition, which in this context means you can theoretically travel to an infinite assortment of worlds that have branched out from our own. He ends up using this ability to find a world where he married his college sweetheart instead of choosing science over their relationship, and then he abducts the version of himself that actually lives in that world and sends him to the world he came from.

There's no way to write this without getting a little tangled up, but basically, our protagonist ends up marooned in the multiverse, fighting to get back to his wife and son, while his doppelgänger worms his way into his life. This is a fairly familiar concept at its root, and like a lot of streaming series, it indulges in its share of narrative langueurs, but it's still pretty bingeable stuff, not least because of a solid cast that includes Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly.

Like the villain in Dark Matter, Andrew McCarthy has apparently become obsessed with a single moment in time, and similarly convinced that if things had happened differently, he might have led a more fulfilling life. In McCarthy's case, the moment in question isn't a choice he made; instead, it's being lumped in with a passel of other young, rising stars in the 1985 New York Magazine editorial that coined the term "Brat Pack."

Nearly 40 years later, McCarthy decided to do what everyone with a story to tell and some studio bucks to tell it ends up doing eventually — he made a documentary titled Brats, which sort of sells itself as the inside story of the Brat Pack, but is really mostly just McCarthy trying to work out the demons that have shadowed him since that editorial was published.

It's kind of a weird hook to hang a movie on, and to be perfectly honest, McCarthy doesn't really do himself many favors with the way he presents it. For him, being listed as a member of the Brat Pack was a catastrophic event that made it impossible for him to be taken seriously as an actor, and you can see him virtually vibrating with nervous energy anytime he gets to talk about the experience — to the point that his on-camera interviews with fellow Brat Packers such as Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, and Demi Moore are marred by interruptions and a lot of overlong blabber from him, which often gets in the way of the stories these folks are telling and points they're trying to make. Throughout, people seem to treat him with a sort of affectionate bemusement, as if they understand he simply doesn't know how to be any other way.

The prevailing impression you come away with is that while the other actors who were tarred with the Brat Pack brush might have resented being reduced to a clever phrase, it didn't wound them as deeply as it did McCarthy — and the more he talks about it, the more you're tempted to hold him by the face and gently repeat "It was almost 40 years ago" until he finally starts to relax. I mean, I'm not sure there's a reason to involve Malcolm fucking Gladwell in something like this. That being said, it's still a generally engaging watch, and there are a number of fairly profound quotes from his interview subjects. There's a lot of good stuff in here about how much control any of us really have over our own narrative, and the immense value in learning to make peace with the many things that are completely out of our hands — provided you can put up with the filmmaker's constant interjections, that is.

Brats is shaggy as hell; in the end, it's so unfocused that I'm not sure a person could really make a convincing argument that the movie has a point beyond giving Andrew McCarthy a forum for working out some stuff that's been bothering him for way too long, and using some famous former co-workers to help him along the way. But it still has a lesson — for me, anyway — and that lesson is this: Gnawing on the past does not bring lasting sustenance, and if you do it long enough, it'll warp you into bitterness. I'm not saying Andrew McCarthy is a bad guy; in fact, it's to his credit that he allows himself to be seen as a lifelong uptight dweeb with an oversized ego. When you aren't annoyed by his onscreen behavior, I think it's perfectly natural to feel sad for the guy — I mean, does he really think he wouldn't have made Mannequin and both Weekend at Bernie's movies if that editorial hadn't been published?

Anyway, that bitterness is taken to its extreme sci-fi conclusion in Dark Matter, which explores the extreme lengths a person will go to in order to obtain and retain the life they think they deserve — not only the ways in which this behavior can cause others irreparable harm, but how it will inevitably end up boomeranging back at you eventually. Would you go back and do things differently if you could? The moral of the story here is that you can't, so there's no point in obsessing over it. Face forward and keep moving. Wherever you are, it's the sum total of the stuff you've done so far, including all the experiences you've lived and lessons learned along the way.

With that, I shall take my leave until at least tomorrow. Enjoy this '80s Soundtrack Party playlist until I return.