‘Brats’ review: In poignant documentary, actors reckon with Brat Pack label they’ve worn for decades

When Vulture magazine did a whole thing on “Nepo Babies” in December of 2002, it caused quite the splash and ripple effect, with dozens of other media outlets chiming in on the trend (which has been around since the dawn of entertainment and for that matter just about every other profession), and second-generation entertainers such as Maya Hawke, Zoe Kravitz, Lily-Rose Depp, and Gwyneth Paltrow weighing in.

Multiple that buzz by 100 and you’ll have an idea of the kind of frenzy that surrounded the June 10, 1985, cover story in New York Magazine by David Blum titled, “Hollywood’s Brat Pack,” with the subhead, “They’re Rob, Emilio, Sean, Tom, Judd and the rest — the young movie stars you can’t quite keep straight.” With one clever turn of phrase and a cynical albeit entertaining feature article, Blum pinned a label that stuck like Velcro® on a generation of actors who had starred in zeitgeist films such as “Class,” “Sixteen Candles,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “The Outsiders,” creating the impression they were so busy partying and living the hipster life that they didn’t take the work seriously.

Now, some 40 years later, actor- filmmaker Andrew McCarthy examines the phenomenon and tries to figure out why he’s still impacted by the “Brat Pack” stigma in the emotionally authentic and nostalgia-tinged Hulu original documentary “Brats,” which was produced by Neon and Network Entertainment for ABC News Studios.

We see a bounty of film clips as well as snippets of the impossibly young actors appearing on shows hosted by the likes of Charlie Rose, Arsenio Hall, Merv Griffin and Phil Donahue, all of whom invoke the term “Brat Pack,” while in present day, the now 61-year-old McCarthy says, “If you were coming of age in the 1980s, then the Brat Pack was at or near the center of your cultural awareness. We were who you wanted to hang with, who you emulated, or envied, who you wanted to party with, but for those of experiencing the Brat Pack from the inside, it was something very different.”

With McCarthy the director relying a bit too heavily on a raw, indie-style approach, McCarthy the intrepid narrator attempts to track down and set up interviews with his former colleagues, and it’s a surprise to learn he hasn’t talked to most of them in decades — not because of any feuds, but because after the article came out, they all took great pains to distance themselves, personally and professionally, so as not to participate as a punchline in their own lives.

Catching up with Emilio Estevez in Estevez’ Malibu home, McCarthy notes they haven’t seen each other since the premiere night of “St. Elmo’s Fire,” while Estevez recalls how the two were supposed to do a film called “Young Man With Unlimited Capital,” but it didn’t happen after the article came out. Visiting Ally Sheedy, McCarthy says, “I had a crush on you,” to which Sheedy responds, “You did not, Andrew.” McCarthy also talks to “Brat Pack Adjacent” actors Jon Cryer and Lea Thompson, as well as cultural commentator Malcolm Gladwell, who tries to help McCarthy comes to grips with his legacy.

The journey continues, with stops at the respective homes of Rob Lowe and Timothy Hutton and Demi Moore. (All of these actors have clearly done quite well for themselves, whether they’re living in oceanside palaces or rustic country homes.) It becomes clear that while many of them share McCarthy’s view that the article was unfair, none has been affected by it nearly as much as McCarthy. Moore says that while she felt the piece was unjust, “Why did we take it as an offense? Because we were young…” Lowe makes the case that those early 1980s movies paved the way for youth-oriented fare such as “Glee” and even “Friends.” We’re also reminded of how so many of those films have become beloved, generational touchstones.

We keep wondering if McCarthy will have a face-to-face with Blum, and sure enough, Blum welcomes McCarthy to his apartment. (They’ve never met before.) It’s a cordial, respectful exchange, even ending with a hug, though we can sense the underlying tension, with McCarthy trying to get Blum to acknowledge the harm the article caused, and Blum saying that yes, in retrospect it seems scathing, but, “I feel more redeemed than ever. … You were all adults … it wasn’t meant to destroy or hurt anyone.”

As for disappointments … Judd Nelson wasn’t available for the documentary, while Molly Ringwald declined to participate. Perhaps she’s learned to let it go. One hopes McCarthy will be able to do the same after making this film, but we get the distinct impression the best he can hope for is to learn to live with it and realize it doesn’t define him.

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