Book Talk: *You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried*, by Susannah Gora

You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation
Susannah Gora (book website)
Three Rivers Press (2011), Paperback (ISBN 0307716600 / 9780307716606)
Nonfiction: Entertainment/social history, 384 pages
Source: Purchased e-book (e-ISBN 9780307460066)
Reason for reading: Personal

Opening lines: “The lavender-hued poster of The Breakfast Club has hung on the walls of countless childhood bedrooms and college dorm rooms over the past quarter of a century. To anybody who grew up staring at that poster, with the film’s young cast staring boldly back, the words written there have held the power of a magic spell, a call to arms in the social battle that is adolescence.”

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
You can quote lines from Sixteen Candles (“Last night at the dance my little brother paid a buck to see your underwear”), your iPod playlist includes more than one song by the Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds, you watch The Breakfast Club every time it comes on cable, and you still wish that Andie had ended up with Duckie in Pretty in Pink. You’re a bonafide Brat Pack devotee—and you’re not alone. 

The films of the Brat Pack—from Sixteen Candles to Say Anything—are some of the most watched, bestselling DVDs of all time. The landscape that the Brat Pack memorialized—where outcasts and prom queens fall in love, preppies and burn-outs become buds, and frosted lip gloss, skinny ties, and exuberant optimism made us feel invincible—is rich with cultural themes and significance, and has influenced an entire generation who still believe that life always turns out the way it is supposed to. 

You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried takes us back to that era, interviewing key players, such as Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, and John Cusack, and mines all the material from the movies to the music to the way the films were made to show how they helped shape our visions for romance, friendship, society, and success.

Comments: I think I was months was born just a few years too early for John Hughes’ iconic 1980s teen films to resonate fully for me. When the best of them, The Breakfast Club, was released in 1985, I was almost twenty-one, a college student…and married with a baby. Although I wasn’t too far from high school chronologically, my life was clearly in a different stage. That said–although maybe not for that reason–my favorite movie associated with the “Brat Pack” era isn’t one of his. It’s the ensemble piece St. Elmo’s Fire, released just a few months after The Breakfast Club and featuring several of the same actors who had been in day-long high-school detention there as recent college graduates. I realize that it’s probably a lesser film artistically, but that doesn’t dim my affection for it.

In You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried –a quote from The Breakfast Club–entertainment journalist Susannah Gora looks at several movies that, taken as a group, still seem to be held high in the affections of the now thirty- and forty-something adults who experienced them, sometimes in multiple viewings, as youth in the 1980s. They were movies that didn’t talk down to teens and young adults–rather, they spoke to us and like us (although perhaps more articulately than most of us). Their characters were authentic, even if the situations they were placed in weren’t always entirely relatable, and–possibly thanks, at least in part, to the simultaneous emergence and influence of MTV–they made use of music in effective new ways that contributed to the films’ emotional impact on their audience.

Although the period Gora considers is effectively bracketed by two films written by Cameron Crowe–1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and 1989’s Say Anything (his directorial debut)–its primary focus is on writer/director John Hughes and his tales of contemporary Chicago-are teens, including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Her research for You Couldn’t Ignore Me… included interviews with many of the participants in the movies it covers–writers, directors, actors, producers, and music directors–and offers a great deal of behind-the-scenes detail while mostly avoiding a gossipy tone.

I read this one pretty quickly, and found it informative and insightful–and it made me want to hunt up a few movies to add to the ol’ Netflix queue. Readers and movie-lovers within a decade or so of my age, and who have maintained a connection and affection for the pop culture that they consumed during their 1980s youth, will likely have a similar response to You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried.

Rating: 3.75 of 5
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My discussions of books by “Brat Pack” members featured in You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried:
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