The Brat Pack at 50

They were Hollywood's chosen in their twenties. So, asks Anne Billson, have the years been kind to the the Breakfast Club and Co?

They were young, they starred in John Hughes’ teen movies, and New York magazine dubbed them The Brat Pack. In 2012, six of them celebrate their 50th birthday, and the others aren’t far behind. Some have fallen off the map, others have gone on to bigger things. What have they been up to?

Let’s start with the lost ones. Judd Nelson (born 1959) was already in his mid-twenties when he played ‘the punk’ in The Breakfast Club (1985) and the young Republican in St Elmo’s Fire (the 1985 wannabe-Hughes movie directed by Joel Schumacher). Nelson’s post-Breakfast roles are littered with terrible choices. No film career in which the Wesley Snipes gangster movie New Jack City is the highlight can be described as a glittering success.

Then there was Andrew McCarthy (50 this year!). After St Elmo’s Fire and Pretty in Pink (1986), it seemed he was in line for the sort of nice guy roles John Cusack has since made his stock-in-trade, but something went awry. Weekend at Bernie’s has its aficionados, but there are few takers for Claude Chabrol’s misfired adaptation of Quiet Days in Clichy (in which McCarthy plays a young Henry Miller) or John Frankenheimer’s Year of the Gun, shot in Italy.

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New York magazine: the 1985 cover that named the group the Brat Pack

As ‘the basket case’ in The Breakfast Club, Ally Sheedy (50 this year!) was on the receiving end of the most egregious makeover in the history of cinema. Sheedy, who also played Nelson’s girlfriend in St Elmo’s Fire, has done as much dross as Nelson and McCarthy, but gets a free pass thanks to her terrific turn as a drug-addicted lesbian photographer in Lisa Cholodenko’s indie drama High Art in 1998.

But what, you say, about Molly Ringwald (born 1968)? With her red hair and bee-stung lips, she was unforgettable in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. She played Cordelia in Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear but passed on Pretty Woman and Ghost; David Lynch wanted her for the Laura Dern role in Blue Velvet, but her mum found the screenplay too disturbing. She is currently playing mum herself, to Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) in naff teen soap The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

And let’s not forget Emilio Estevez (50 this year!). After playing ‘the jock’ in The Breakfast Club and a lovestruck law student in St Elmo’s Fire, he had mainstream hits with Stakeout and Young Guns and suffered a memorable early death in Mission: Impossible, but has now turned to directing. His best known film is Bobby, a respectable if uninspired all-star ensemble period drama set around the assassination of Robert Kennedy. It’s been left to Emilio’s younger brother Charlie Sheen (born 1965) to become the poster boy for bad behaviour with his substance abuse, girlfriend battering and public meltdown.

Career success

The most unexpected career has been that of Anthony Michael Hall (born 1968). He was utterly wet and a weed in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, but grew into a solid character actor with small but crucial roles in Edward Scissorhands and The Dark Knight, and was an impressive leading man in six seasons of The Dead Zone, a not-bad spin-off from the Stephen King novel.

Compare that to Rob Lowe (born 1964), who played the irresponsible pretty boy in St Elmo’s Fire, a role he seemed to be emulating in real life when he dated Princess Stephanie of Monaco, and later became embroiled the sort of sex-tape scandal that has since become an obligatory PR stunt for every starlet in town. He then had the good fortune to fall in with Mike Myers, sent himself up in the Wayne’s World and Austin Powers movies, and has since done stints in above-average TV shows including The West Wing, Californication and Parks and Recreation.

As for Demi Moore (50 this year!), well, what’s not to know? She was originally ‘the party girl’ in St Elmo’s Fire. Then, thanks to such hits as Ghost and a couple of nude Vanity Fair covers, she became one of the most highly paid (and boring) actresses in Hollywood. High-profile marriages to Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher upped her status. A ‘comeback’ in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle seemed designed to showcase her miraculously well-preserved physique rather than any acting ability, but she was recently rather good and touching in Margin Call. After her recent marital heartbreak and weight loss, you want her erstwhile co-stars to stage an intervention, the way they did in St Elmo’s Fire.

After her – if we are to discount Tom Cruise (50 this year!), who in 1983 co-starred with Lowe and Estevez in The Outsiders – the biggest Brat Pack success story is that of Matthew Broderick (50 this year!). He was already a seasoned veteran prior to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and has since been in smash hits on the Broadway stage and blockbusters including Godzilla. He has also carved himself a schlemiel-shaped* niche in small but interesting films such as Election and You Can Count On Me, not to mention holding down one of showbiz’s most puzzling marriages, to Sarah Jessica Parker.

So there you have it. Not too tragic a story. They are all still working, if not always in the sort of TV show you’d want to watch, and they are all still alive – no mean feat when talking about people who first tasted fame as adolescents in Hollywood in the 1980s. F Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, but hey, he never even made it to 50.

*Schleimel (n) – Slang. A habitual bungler; a dolt.