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Jun 11 2024
PLAYING THE BLANE GAME: A Review Of Andrew McCarthy's Hughes-Worthy Doc BRATS Comments (0)

Ezgif-3-a217946e9aWalk on by (GIF via GIPHY)

Andrew-mccarthy-matthew-rettenmund-brats IMG_0106 copy 2On June 7, I trekked to TriBeCa for the premiere of Brats, a new doc by actor Andrew McCarthy (inset) that is his attempt to reconcile — with help from famous peers and pop pundits — with the phrase “Brat Pack,” which tampered with his career and got into his head, where it has stayed since the Reagan Administration.


It's called a sense of context, and McCarthy is attempting to get one.

The screening was packed, and while tickets were supposed to be GA, the entire orchestra was reserved. That meant I couldn't get many photos of the carpet, since I had to stake out a seat ASAP way up in the mezzanine, where the eagle's flyin' higher and higher. I wound up seeing McCarthy, Jon Cryer and a few others, but missed Ally Sheedy and Demi Moore.

Jon-cryer-matthew-rettenmund-IMG_0009 copyTown Cryer (All images by Matthew Rettenmund unless noted)

Andrew-mccarthy-IMG_0039 copyCasting director Marci Liroff with McCarthy

Howard deutch IMG_0141 copyPretty in Pink director Howard Deutch. He also directed Some Kind of Wonderful (1987).

Inside, McCarthy humbly introduced the film, and for 90 minutes a Gen X-heavy crowd smiled ear-to-ear in the dark as Brats amiably recapped the pop cultural landscape of the '80s; how Hollywood had suddenly embraced films geared toward young adults; the eyebrow-raising, on-the-fly interview style of reporters of the era; and the gritty, yes, glamour of the Brat Pack.

Brats-movies-boycultureThe film's poster cleverly uses a frame from St. Elmo's Fire with Mare Winningham's face hidden, which captures the entire Brat Pack minus Molly Ringwald, who wasn't in that one and who avoided particpating in Brats. (Image via Hulu)

One of the amusing aspects of the film is determining who is considered to be in the Brat Pack. I agree with the premise that the Pack was Emilio Estevez (the New York article that coined the phrase was initially a profile of him, but he pulled others in without realizing it would be a hatchet job), Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Demi Moore. Basically, a mix of The Breakfast Club (1985) and St. Elmo's Fire (1985), minus Anthony Michael Hall (too young) and Mare Winningham (just lucky, I guess).

Brat-pack-movies-boycultureArguably the most famous Brat Pack movies, with The Breakfast Club as far and away the best. (Images via movie posters)

Pack-adjacent names floated included Cryer (who hilariously asserts in the film, with mock defensiveness, that he definitely wasn't in it), Lea Thompson (who appears in a guarded exchange with McCarthy), Timothy Hutton (he's in the film, but seems  to have been more the Pack's origin story than of it), Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Matthew Broderick, Ralph Macchio and a Teen Beat table of contents of others.

Throughout Brats, McCarthy shoots on the fly, enhancing with his iPhone, as he persuades his long-ago friends to chat with him about what it meant to be labeled — branded? — a Brat Packer. He comes off as sweet and open-hearted, to the point where there is, at times, an imbalance between his eagerness to learn from the experience and the willingness of his subjects to go there.

For example, Estevez appears as if he just barely agreed to do this film, and might be regretting it during his collegial talk with McCarthy, while Lowe seems a bit supercilious. But eventually, it is the mixture of reactions and McCarthy's consistency that helps to form a cohesive narrative as to what the hell happened.

Brat-pack-new-york-boycultureSt. Elmo's Fire producer Lauren Shuler Donner told McCarthy she liked the Brat Pack name. Interestingly, an outtake from a photo shoot promoting her film was used by New York for its snarky cover story. (Image via New York Magazine)

What did happen is New York writer David Blum ingeniously titled a June 10, 1985, hit piece “Hollywood's Brat Pack.” It was such a delicious term, harking back to the Rat Pack (fun fact: the iconic Rat Pack we think of today was an early '60s phenom, meaning the Brat Pack was 25 years away from it, while the Brat Pack is 40 years away from today!) and playing off the youth of the actors it sought to describe. 

However, though “brat” was feasible due to their ages alone, it also did carry a negative connotation, that of spoiled Hollywood kids who were presumably overnight stars and never had to work for their success. And while most people today have no idea the phrase came from an article, it did, and that article was unkind. Sample spicy paragraph:

What distinguishes these young actors from generations past is that most of them have skipped the one step toward success that was required of the generation of Marlon Brando and James Dean, and even that of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino: years of acting study. Young actors used to spend years at the knee of such respected teachers as Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler before venturing out onstage, let alone in movies; today, that step isn’t considered so necessary.

The mixture of a clever moniker and a cynical take on something a huge number of people found to be delightful and cool was catnip for the media, which could not help repeating the words “Brat Pack” ad nauseam, not to mention asking every young star about it any time they arrived on the scene to promote a new project.

The result was that Brat Packers were deemed to have jumped the mall, and this led to an artificially induced cooling of careers.

Demi moore IMG_0178 copyDemi Moore will see you now.

For some, the slump was temporary. Demi and Rob, you will always be famous. Jon made TV history and bank as one of the Two and a Half Men (with Charlie Sheen, a Brat Packer's brother). But while the other Brat Packers continue to work, and all have career highlights that are not restricted to ideas John Hughes once had, the idea remains that at least some opportunities were missed thanks to the tag.

Demi moore jon cryer IMG_0274 copyDemi & Duckie

Among the film's interviewees, Moore's stands out as the most cathartic. She seems to possess some wisdom on the art of letting things roll off her back, a trait that was joked about during the Q&A, during which she was praised as a natural-born therapist.

Ally sheedy IMG_0194 copyAlly's Allison is the best performance in any Brat Pack film, IMO.

I also especially enjoyed McCarthy's warm chat with Sheedy, who seems to be at peace with her commendable body of work.

Andrew mccarthy david blum IMG_0215 copyMcCarthy's face says it all — Blum wouldn't budge.

But as interesting as anything McCarthy shot on this topic would be to any '80s kid, I think his film goes to a new level thanks to a surprising meeting of the minds with Blum who, impossibly, thought it would be a good idea to talk on film about his snarky article.

I am a writer, and I am therefore empathetic to Blum. While his piece was critical — and while aspects of it are unnecessarily nasty, even if ethical — Blum certainly could have said the truth, which is that whatever his intentions in 1985, he could never have guessed the piece would ride the zeitgeist and have such long-reaching effects on the people he was writing about. A simple sorry would have been human.

Instead, he comes off as rather robotic, even going so far as to suggest the article was ultimately positive, because it helped draw more attention to the actors' films. (At the Q&A, he tripled down. One suspects if confronted at his local Food Emporium, Blum would quadruple down.)

I felt McCarthy's time with Blum made the entire film work, and an abrupt and very funny ending gimmick left us on the exact-right note.

I have to agree with Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch, who told McCarthy during the Q&A, “I think you should be doing this for a living.”

(Ruth Gordon was in the movies for 50 years when she got her Oscar. Boyish McCarthy's been at it for 40, so there's plenty of time for that reinvention.)

Molly-ringwald-boyculture“I don't think I belong here.” (Image via video still)

The only glaring disappointment in Brats is Ringwald's refusal to participate. Not only was she the queen of the Brat Pack and the queen of '80s teen movies, she was McCarthy's co-star in Pretty in Pink — it would have been compelling to hear from her.

Though it is said in the film that she got the call and was thinking on it, she did ultimately pass, leading me to wonder if working with McCarthy on Pretty in Pink had been unpleasant. During the Q&A, Cryer point-blank called McCarthy — who had been struggling privately with alcohol — a “dick” to work with back in the day, and while the two have since patched things up and enjoyed a warm reunion on film and onstage, he wasn't joking so much as telling the truth with a retroactive smile. Maybe Molly felt the same way and isn't over it?

Demi-moore-ally-sheedy IMG_0300 copyA sweet moment between Sheedy & Moore post-screening

At any rate, McCarthy nowadays seems the anti-dick, and his film Brats is anti-bratty. It's by turns thoughtful, spiritual, whimsical and self-deprecating. It is neither demented nor sad, but is very social, and I hope you will seek it out when it streams on Hulu this Thursday.

Demi-moore-ally-sheedy-jon-cryer-matthew-rettenmund-IMG_0330 copyMoore & Cryer were engrossed in conversation after, and left the stage last.

Watch my edited footage from the Q&A below for examples of Demi Moore's therapy, Cryer's dick joke and more: