Brats [Tribeca Festival Review]

For those of us who came of age in the 1980s, the Brat Pack was an indelible part of pop culture. The joint release of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire in 1985 marked the moment Hollywood’s shift toward youth-oriented movies became complete. The Brat Pack belonged to my generation. They were our stars, our onscreen avatars who reflected our experiences and dreams, just as a previous generation of stars did for our parents. Whereas we viewed the label “Brat Pack” with affection, the actors in that group saw it as a liability that led to a false impression that they didn’t take their work seriously. The documentary Brats, which had its world premiere in the Spotlight + section of the 2024 Tribeca Festival, takes a look at the phenomenon from the inside.

Andrew McCarthy, who starred in St. Elmo’s Fire and Pretty in Pink, directed and stars in the documentary. Having long felt the derogatory Brat Pack designation negatively impacted his life and career, he decides to talk to as many members of the old gang as possible. Some still don’t want to revisit that period. Molly Ringwald turns McCarthy down, and Judd Nelson ghosts him. Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, and Demi Moore are all game, though.

What he finds is surprising. Estevez and Sheedy agree the label was limiting yet take an “it is what it is” approach. Lowe, on the other hand, feels it bonded everyone together in the public’s mind to a degree that has allowed their work to remain popular thirty years later. Moore, meanwhile, offers a surprisingly philosophical view, suggesting that being dubbed a “brat” gave her something to rise above. Hearing the stars discuss the pros and cons of their particular type of success is like catnip for anyone who grew up in the ‘80s. Brats could have been three times as long without ever growing dull.

At the documentary’s heart is McCarthy’s reevaluation of his Brat Pack status after therapeutically hashing it out. His views on it change as he talks to his friends, who help him find a silver lining. McCarthy also chats with Brat Pack-adjacent actors like Jon Cryer and Lea Thompson, Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutsch, St. Elmo’s Fire producer Lauren Shuler Donner, and writer Malcolm Gladwell to get their analysis of why the Brat Pack resonated so strongly with audiences.

As a sign of his healing, McCarthy even meets with David Blum, the New Yorker journalist who coined the term and, not so coincidentally, the man he has long blamed for his professional malaise. Their conversation is gripping, revealing how one person’s attempt at being clever had an unexpected impact on Hollywood’s hottest young talent. The men are cordial, but neither backs down from defending their position.

Brats is first-rate entertainment for fans of the Brat Pack movies. The documentary is filled with juicy anecdotes and behind-the-scenes footage. Beyond that, it also works as an exploration of Andrew McCarthy’s efforts to reframe his experience as a young actor. You can feel his liberation as he gradually stops viewing the Brat Pack label as something with a negative connotation and starts viewing it as a sign of the impact his films had on the world. His emotional journey proves touching.

out of four

Brats is unrated, but contains some strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan