The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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Movie Review: Andrew McCarthy hunts the ‘Brat Pack’ blowback in the documentary ‘Brats’

Sunday, 16 June 2024, 08:40 Last update: about 2 months ago

Written by MARK KENNEDY, Associated Press

He's 61 now, well-off and trim. He has many accomplishments as an actor but there's this one thing he finds hard to shake: Back in 1985, he got called something.

During the Reagan administration, rising star Andrew McCarthy was lumped into an amorphous group of young actors who were changing Hollywood. They were called the "Brat Pack."

Now, it's never nice to be called a "brat" or to lose your individuality to a pack, but McCarthy and the members of this collective - Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe and maybe Anthony Michael Hall - seemed to implode.

"That changed my life," says McCarthy, who starred in "Pretty in Pink" and "St. Elmo's Fire." After being branded, the so-called bratty actors scattered, not wanting to work together again. The stigma, McCarthy says, was "defining." He has PTSD, he suggests.

Now almost 40 years later, McCarthy hit the road to star in and direct his new Hulu documentary, "Brats," trying to get a handle on the label and how some of the pack handled it.

First stop is a wary Estevez, who acknowledges that the Brat Pack term had some early benefits but was ultimately "more damage than good."

"It created the perception that we were lightweights," he adds.

Then there are visits to Sheedy, Moore, Lowe, Jon Cryer, Tim Hutton and Lea Thompson - all who commiserate with McCarthy. (Ringwald and Nelson are notable absences, perhaps still nursing wounds.) These visits have the feeling of therapy sessions.

"Marty Scorsese, Steven Spielberg is not going to call up somebody who's in the Brat Pack," McCarthy tells Estevez, who admits to pulling out of a movie at the prospect of teaming up with McCarthy.

(Not to be rude, but the Brat Pack-adjacent Tom Cruise did a movie with Scorsese, "The Color of Money," Moore became the hottest thing in Hollywood in the '90s and Robert Downey Jr., also Pack-adjacent, just took home an Oscar.)

As he pays one former colleague after another a visit at their well-appointed homes, the heat of injustice has dissipated. Moore's estate with its tasteful wood panels, shaded pool, massive glass walls and Japanese-inspired minimalism doesn't exactly scream, "That label from 1985 really destroyed my life."

The doc is scored well, with songs by The Cure, Lou Reed and Steve Winwood, "Forever Young" by Alphaville and a haunting "Don't You (Forget About Me)" cover by Zoe Fox and the Rocket Clocks.

But McCarthy's visual style is too fragmented, happy to capture his scrambling camera and sound operators in the frame and changing up his shots from guerilla-style jerky iPhone images to tasteful, polished portraits. His use of old clips is excellent, incorporating not just scenes from movies but TV interview outtakes, too.

A more interesting thing happens in McCarthy's road movie by the halfway mark - it becomes a sort of celebration of Brat Pack movies. Cultural observer Malcolm Gladwell talks about the generational transition in Hollywood, while Susannah Gora, who wrote "You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried" about the Brat Pack's impact, notes that teens in the Midwest were singing British New Wave synth-pop tunes thanks to McCarthy.

Pop culture critic Ira Madison III zeroes in on the lack of diversity in Brat Pack movies, "Less Than Zero" writer Bret Easton Ellis notes the influence the movies had on his work, and screenwriter Michael Oates Palmer comments that Brat Pack movies were the first to take "young people's lives seriously."

These are the building blocks of a better movie - Gladwell cutely mentions that he used parts of Cryer's character Duckie from "Pretty in Pink" as his identity in high school - but McCarthy isn't willing to stray.

He comes across as a very thoughtful guy, able to quote Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill, reserved, shy and wry, so often deep in his feelings. But this bratty label he cannot shake. He also wrote about it in "Brat: An '80s Story." It is his Moby Dick.

That analogy works when he finally harpoons his white whale - David Blum, who at 29 in 1985, hoping to snag some attention in the journalism world, coined the phrase "Brat Pack" - a flip play on the Rat Pack - for New York magazine.

McCarthy sits down with Blum at the conclusion of the film - the aggrieved actor and the journalist meeting for the first time four decades after being dragged into the '80s cultural lexicon. This is the "You can't handle the truth" moment.

And yet McCarthy is so nice that while he makes his case well, he sort of also understands Blum's position and kind of likes him, too. Will Blum finally admit that the label is scathing? "I mean, I guess in retrospect, yes. At the time, no. I was proud of the creation of the phrase," says the writer. They end their meeting with a hug.

Like a Brat Pack movie.


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