‘Brats’ serves as healing therapy jam

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 6/19/24


For a concept that was coined by a 1985 New York magazine cover story, the appeal of “The Brat Pack” has proven more enduring than a number of major political movements, and …

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‘Brats’ serves as healing therapy jam



For a concept that was coined by a 1985 New York magazine cover story, the appeal of “The Brat Pack” has proven more enduring than a number of major political movements, and now, nearly 40 years later, one of its members has returned to the well.

Andrew McCarthy wonders what the “Brat Pack” moniker, and its aftermath, all meant in the documentary “Brats” that he directed. It is screening on Hulu.

The good news is that McCarthy, who was notable for his characters’ kvetching introspection, weaponizes that contemplative streak really effectively as a filmmaker, enough to overcome the most basic hurdle of a project like this, which is the simple question, “Why should anyone still care about the Brat Pack?”

As it turns out, even for folks outside of my age cohort — Generation X literally grew up on Brat Pack movies — those once-young actors and their contributions to cinema still matter quite a lot, because they heralded the rise of a youth-dominated movie culture that persists to this day.

None of them welcomed being labeled “Brats” at the time, and for this documentary, McCarthy took the time to call up his old costars and colleagues, many of whom he hadn’t spoken to in decades, to ask each of them how they dealt with that infamous label.

If you’re coming to this film as a complete outsider to 1980s pop culture, what you’re going to see is slightly more than half a dozen folks in their late 50s and early 60s, all of whom remain attractive for their ages, speaking in a language that has clearly been honed by years of therapy.

Just as the 1985 Brat Pack dramedy “The Breakfast Club” ultimately reveals itself to be a talk therapy jam, so too do McCarthy’s conversations with Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore and Rob Lowe boil down to them putting to bed the Ghosts of Premieres and Parties Past.

For all their lingering angst, not to mention the well-documented turmoil of their younger years, it made me unreasonably happy to see how healthy and positive these faces from my childhood had become, especially as McCarthy also consulted a pool of even older industry professionals. That includes those who shepherded the careers of the Brat Pack when they were still kids, as well as a number of now-adult film and cultural critics whose formative years were shaped by the Brat Pack canon.

The inclusion of “Less Than Zero” author Bret Easton Ellis was particularly compelling to me, because he initially hated the film adaptation of his novel, which McCarthy starred in. Yet over the years, Ellis’ opinion of that film has grown far more favorable, for how well it captured the Eighties zeitgeist. When Ellis wrote the sequel novel “Imperial Bedrooms,” McCarthy narrated the audiobook.

Although McCarthy wasn’t able to secure onscreen interviews with Molly Ringwald or Judd Nelson, he did score “Brat Pack adjacent” actors Lea Thompson (looking as luminous as she did in “Back to the Future”) and Jon Cryer (who’s been killing it as Lex Luthor in the DC TV universe), as well as Timothy Hutton, the youngest winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, at the age of 20, for 1980’s “Ordinary People.”

It was interesting to me that the older/younger brother vibe I always picked up on between Hutton and McCarthy was confirmed by McCarthy himself, and it’s hilariously adorable that Hutton is spending his old age as a beekeeper in the country.

Arguably McCarthy’s biggest coup in this film is an on-camera interview with David Blum, the reporter who coined the term “Brat Pack” for his magazine article, that began as a profile of Estevez, but expanded to encompass his peers in “The Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

Both McCarthy and Blum are defensive and neurotic enough to make their interactions tense and cagey, and yet, they develop an empathy for one another through their recollections. This happens despite Blum’s devout refusal to express the remorse McCarthy clearly would have preferred.

As Garth Ennis so succinctly wrote, “Regrets aren’t worth a bugger,” and we all wish we’d taken better advantage of our youth — McCarthy visibly melts Sheedy’s heart a bit when he shares a memory of a car ride with her, during which he was genuinely happy and living in the moment — but that’s precisely what makes it so poignant to look back.

You can still watch all those old Brat Pack films, with their adolescent imbroglios and painfully earnest yearning, starring familiar faces not yet grown old, and to shamelessly plagiarize from Hunter S. Thompson, with the right kind of eyes, you can almost see the high-water mark … that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.

Consider this a recommendation.