When Andrew McCarthy rushed up to Molly Ringwald in the final moments of Pretty In Pink to apologize for being a douchebag and declare his love, it seemed, to many of us growing up in the 1980s, the pinnacle of romance. “I always believed in you,” his Blane tells her Andie, blue-gray eyes brimming with nervous conviction. “I just didn’t believe in me.”
Swoon. If only we can get there, we all thought. Everything will be perfect.
Alas. Andie and Blane will forever stay locked their youthful embrace, O.M.D.’s “If You Leave” soaring on the soundtrack. But for the rest of us, life marches cruelly on, one messy heartache after another, and a future in which we ever get to do it on a cloud without getting pregnant or herpes seems increasingly dim. Even for Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald, who each have new books out about relationships that are less than movie-perfect.
When we catch up with McCarthy at the start of his memoir, The Longest Way Home, it’s been 26 years since he answered a fateful newspaper ad seeking a boy, “eighteen, vulnerable and sensitive.” Since then he’s been through some shit: Rehab, a wrenching divorce, a spate of Lifetime Original Movies. Just to name a few.
But these days he’s working steadily as an actor and director, and, to seemingly everyone’s surprise, has made a side career for himself as a travel writer. (“You’re an actor,” the befuddled editor of National Geographic Traveler says at their initial meeting.) His relationship with his ex-wife has mellowed into an agreeable custody arrangement for their son, and he’s living in harmony with a sunny Irish girlfriend, D, and their young daughter. Seven years went under the bridge, like time was standing still. (Sorry.) All has been well.
But now, D wants to get—gulp—married. “The best thing that you could do is show up,” a friend tells an uneasy McCarthy, who swallows his fear and agrees to the ceremony. But then a funny thing happens. As D starts planning the wedding, McCarthy loads up his schedule with trips to far-flung places: Patagonia, the Amazon, Mount Kilimanjaro. “You do understand that as soon as we decided to get married you’re going as far away as you can get,” his fiancée tells him, leading the way toward an aha moment with all the originality and subtlety of a cartoon light bulb.
McCarthy, it turns out, is—wait for it—afraid of commitment. His reticence has to do with a bunch of things: His overbearing father, who has an uncannily Hughesian manner of speech (“No son of mine is going to be a fucking thespian”); his first marriage, which he found stifling (“I felt like I had to leave 20 percent of myself outside just to walk in the door of our marriage.”); and a (sensitivity-based?) awkwardness that has long caused him to regard himself as a “loner.” There’s more, too. Lots more. And the only way for him to work through it and become a better man, of course, is to set forth on his planned journey—“not to escape the commitment I recently made,” he tells us, “but to gain the insight necessary to bring me home.”
Cue “Desperado” as McCarthy heads off a journey of self-discovery, one that involves much staring into the middle distance, licking of ancient filial wounds, charged but chaste interactions with women with “ample breasts,” and of course, pizza. Specifically: “Papa John’s quatro queso pizza at six-thirty in the morning.” Morning pizza! The taste of freedom! It’s a sensitive-yet-vulnerable man’s rumspringa interrupted only by the occasional pang of conscience.
Often, a sudden recollection of responsibilities back home falls down on me hard, like a burden I’ve neglected that needs my attention. Feelings of guilt and affection, resentment and love, will often vie for dominance in my suddenly addled mind, but tonight, retrieving my bicycle and pedaling along the dirt road to my bungalow by the sea under a dripping gauze of stars...
Ugh. McCarthy’s editor had it right: He’s not a writer, he’s an actor. That said, the observational skills he’s developed in his primary career are useful when he’s describing the characters he meets on the road, who come alive with just a few gestures, like that editor, “a barrel-chested lion of a man with a mane of silver hair” who agreed to meet him at an East Village bar but clearly didn’t take him at all seriously. “Can you even write?” he asks McCarthy, “looking at a young woman down the bar.”
Unfortunately, most of McCarthy’s observations are focused on himself, and his examinations of his own ambivalence are about as interesting as a stoned person’s description of a rug pattern. “Getting married would be an acknowledgement of who I am rather than clinging to what I had,” he thinks at one point.
On the other hand, I’m an accumulation of all my past, and if in getting married I leave it behind, I don’t know what I take forward. If I let go of my past, I’m uncertain what I have to offer. If I’m not that person, then who am I?
At this point, I’d have flown to the Amazon just to strangle him. McCarthy’s publisher is billing The Long Journey Home as a male version of Eat, Pray, Love, and it’s possible that McCarthy’s long, lonely trek around the world will fulfill a similar kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy for some men. For the rest of us, a story about a man-child who feels trapped and underappreciated by his family and just wants five minutes to himself is joyless and familiar, like watching a Judd Apatow movie with all of the poop jokes cut out.