Film Review – Brats



The term “Brat Pack” comes with a host of different meanings. For many movie fans, it represents a wave of actors in their early 20s who took Hollywood by storm in the 1980s. As the film industry transitioned out of the ‘70s, so did the audience demographics. Studios found that stories about young people were gaining traction, and thus an influx of films about being a teen, being in high school, being an outcast, and the fear of adulthood resulted in box office hits. It made the actors instant stars – recognizable names and faces who became avatars of the youth movement.

You know the movies: Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), and St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) are the most notable, but Risky Business (1983), The Outsiders (1983), Weird Science (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) could also be argued. Then there are the so-called “members” of the Brat Pack: Emilio EstevezAlly SheedyAndrew McCarthyRob LoweDemi MooreJudd Nelson, and Anthony Michael Hall. We can go even further and talk about the Brat Pack “adjacent” members: Tom CruiseTimothy HuttonJames SpaderLea ThompsonJon CryerJohn and Joan CusackRobert Downey Jr., on and on and on. The point is that at the time, “Brat Pack” meant being young, white, and a movie star.

But what did it mean to be part of the club? That’s what Andrew McCarthy attempts to navigate in his documentary, Brats (2024). Reuniting with several of his fellow Brat Packers, McCarthy unpacks many of the conflicted feelings they all had being branded into a group none of them asked for. A lot of good memories are shared, but there’s also a surprising level of resentment. I was caught off guard with how somber McCarthy allows the tone to reach. The origin of this stems from a New York Magazine article written by David Blum and published in 1985. It’s here where the term is officially coined, thus changing the career trajectories of all those mentioned. 

McCarthy describes how he and his cohorts didn’t appreciate the label, and how the article immediately type casted them all. As he describes, Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg would never cast someone simply known as part of the Brat Pack. The term has stuck with each of them for the rest of their careers. Some continue to see it in a negative light. Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson declined to be interviewed, and Estevez only agreed because McCarthy personally called him. Others have come to embrace it, such as Demi Moore and Rob Lowe. In the middle is McCarthy, who wavers between both sides of the fence. He goes on to say that the label essentially “destroyed” his career, but now – after decades – seems to be softening up on it. Perhaps creating the documentary was his form of psychoanalysis, trying to find balance between his initial bitterness of the term and the positivity it formed among fans and the movie industry as a whole.

The documentary benefits from McCarthy taking the director’s chair. If this had been made by another filmmaker or journalist, it wouldn’t have had the personal touch that McCarthy brings to it. Because he is a member of the Brat Pack and was there in the middle of the commotion back in the ‘80s, it gives him a unique perspective. Interviewees open up to him in a way they likely wouldn’t with anyone else – because McCarthy understands what they all went through. The conversations have the feeling of friends coming together and reminiscing about the old times – both good and bad. But McCarthy doesn’t shy away from the more uncomfortable confrontations. The most surprising interview is with none other than David Blum himself, who defends his article but acknowledges the impact it had on all those he covered.

McCarthy’s direction features present day interviews with plenty of clips from the previously mentioned films. He circumvents the absence of Nelson and Ringwald by including archival interviews where they – as their younger selves – talk about being a young actor in Hollywood and suddenly being part of a clique created by the media. The footage from the past reminds us how difficult it must’ve been to be a person of that age suddenly thrust into the limelight. Clips from The Phil Donahue Show are uncomfortable in how the actors are put under such an intense social microscope. In contrast, the present day footage is straight forward, although McCarthy makes some curious artistic choices. Allowing the cameraman to be shown on screen, filtering B-footage to make it appear like it was shot on grainy film stock, or having the camera set far back in the distance as though it were a voyeur felt a bit excessive.

I appreciate what Andrew McCarthy was aiming for with Brats. By going into the past and confronting his thoughts about The Brat Pack, he attempts to come to terms with it and thus find closure. The documentary is ambitious in how it includes so many people, films, and conversations to help us better define what the label means and its lasting effect on pop culture. But I wonder if making a documentary about that process was more for McCarthy’s benefit than for the audience. Those who get the most out of this are those that are actually in it, like group therapy. I’m not so sure those of us seeing it from the outside will ever truly understand what it means to have been in that position. 




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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