close
close

Andrew McCarthy’s “Brats” examines the curse of the Brat Packs in Hollywood

There may still be debate over who exactly belonged to the Brat Pack (Ally Sheedy? Yes. Kiefer Sutherland? No), but there is little dispute over the tremendous cultural impact of this informal group and its memorable nickname, first coined by David Blum in 1985. new York Cover story.

To the world, the term “Brat Pack” – a cheeky reference to the Rat Pack – was a catch-all for the young actors who were taking Hollywood by storm. But for these aspiring artists, the moniker was less a cute blessing than a demeaning curse.

Four decades after it cemented their reputation and personality, Andrew McCarthy – one of the clique’s leading figures – revisits their legacy and its impact on himself, with Bratsa feature-length documentary that premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival before its debut on Hulu on June 13. The film traces the whirlwind phenomenon and, as it turns out, the difficult process of looking back and learning to both accept the good and let go of the bad.

For McCarthy, the Brat Pack was an abbreviation for something terrible. “It gave the impression that we were lightweights. That we didn't take it seriously,” he says in Bratsand the “it” he's referring to is his craft. Along with Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald (as well as numerous “Brat Pack” compatriots, as Lea Thompson calls herself), McCarthy was part of a group of twenty-something stars who represented a gigantic shift in Hollywood.

The cast of St. Elmo's Fire

Columbia Pictures

They were at the forefront of a wave of films that focused explicitly on the personal, social and emotional lives of teenagers, and were icons of a new generation. The works that shaped their early careersSixteen candles, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo's Fire, Pretty in PinkAnd Because of last night…— shaped the youth culture of the 1980s. When McCarthy at one point in his documentary The Breakfast Club To The Catcher in the RyeThe comparison is eye-openingly apt, since the typical Brat Pack films were, for children of a certain age (and those following them), an essential expression of their young adult reality.

In McCarthy's estimation, however, all this was tainted and overshadowed by Blum's magazine piece, which began as a portrait of Estevez and took its final form after the author's evening on the town with his subject. McCarthy spends considerable time on screen in Brats He explained – on camera and to interviewees – that the nickname “Brat Pack” immediately entered the zeitgeist the moment it was born and subsequently changed the perception of him both inside and outside the industry.

In his opinion, none of this was positive, as it reduced him and his colleagues to frivolous novices who were more concerned with partying than with doing. Whether or not this opinion was correct (or whether people even held it) soon became secondary to the fact that he felt belittled (and the pressure to overcome this), and it changed his view of himself and his fortune in a damaging way.

Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy in “Brats”

Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy

ABC News Studio

Filled with film clips and accompanied by well-known melodies from the time, Brats is McCarthy's personal examination of his own rise and fall, and motivates him to reunite with as many Brat Packers as are willing to join in. Unfortunately, Ringwald and Nelson aren't included, and Anthony Michael Hall isn't even mentioned, which is almost sacrilegious. Still, the others are there, starting with Estevez, who says he avoided retrospective screenings of his '80s hits for years because the Brat Pack's reputation so hampered his ambition to become a celebrated actor/director in the mold of his father.

When asked if he would erase the term from history if he could, Estevez admits that it's “a difficult question because you can only know what is known. Was it something that we benefited from? Maybe. But in the long run, I don't think it was. I think it did more harm than good.”

Sheedy feels similarly hurt by the label, and Timothy Hutton – who is called the “Godfather of the Brat Pack” because he won an Oscar in 1980 for Ordinary people –says he thought it was “cheap.” But the further McCarthy continues his research, the more he sees and embraces a different perspective on the Brat Pack. Demi Moore seems largely unfazed by her association with the nickname, and her remark, “We were babies!” suggests that her negative reaction had a lot to do with immaturity, especially given her hyper-competitive, image-focused business. Lowe is even more laid back about the entire period, reminding McCarthy that it means something to people when they are remembered for something more than 30 years later.

A still of Demi Moore and Andrew McCarthy in “Brats”

Demi Moore and Andrew McCarthy

ABC News Studios

In BratsIn the finale of “The 40 Fingers,” McCarthy sits down for a lengthy conversation with Blum, who admits that he made a few snide jabs at McCarthy and his ilk in the magazine article, but otherwise refuses to apologize for an article and a term that he considered to be an accurate and entertaining portrait of notable people at a particular point in time.

“Do you think you could have been nicer?” McCarthy asks at the end of their conversation. His wish for remorse remains unfulfilled; although he understands why McCarthy and Co. might not have liked it, Blum is open about the pride he felt and still feels about the Brat Pack title. Besides, he says, his article was about attention-seeking adults and the behavior they displayed in his presence, so any setback was “collateral damage” to him.

In conversations with Jon Cryer, Malcolm Gladwell, Bret Easton Ellis, author Susannah Gora and Indiewire With critic Kate Erbland, McCarthy gains a deeper understanding of the formative influence that the Brat Pack films had on American children and, by extension, on culture in general. Brats convincingly argues that they were and remain popular gateways that guide boys and girls from adolescence into their teens. As such, their enduring value negates the (potential) ugliness of the term “Brat Pack.”

Although it shattered his dreams, McCarthy seems to have made some peace with his membership in this exclusive club – which never really existed, as the two never dated or even knew each other – and he understood that membership made him and his “branded” brothers exactly what all film actors aspire to: immortal.