‘Brats’ Review: A Pretty Peeved Andrew McCarthy Revisits His Brat Pack Past

Tribeca 2024: Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Jon Cryer and more wade into their ’80s fame

Andrew McCarthy
Andrew McCarthy

What are we to make of the fact that Andrew McCarthy’s first effort as a documentary filmmaker is a bitter excoriation of the Brat Pack tag that defined him — and is also ostentatiously named after it?

It would be just ducky to be able to report that “Brats” is the inside deep-dive we might wish it to be. But really, it’s a lightly-indulgent passion project that leaves us wanting so much more.

McCarthy begins by noting frankly that “we were who you wanted to hang with, who you envied, who you wanted to party with.” The “we,” of course, also refers to Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, as well as Pack-adjacent stars like James Spader, Lea Thompson and Jon Cryer. The cool kids of ’80s movies like “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink” and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” they were tagged the Brat Pack in a 1985 New York Magazine article by David Blum. According to McCarthy, that’s when everything fell apart.

Nearly 40 years later, he’s still mad and finally ready to deal with the Brat Pack legacy — not of the films, which are far-too-briefly surveyed, but the moniker itself.

Today, when celebrities face all manner of trolls night and day, McCarthy’s ongoing outrage over a decades-old nickname seems a little over-amplified. But it also feels genuine, something that truly bothers him as he discusses it with former costars.

His first visit is to the famously private Estevez, who shares McCarthy’s anger but none of his emotiveness. The two stand about awkwardly as McCarthy unburdens himself, while Estevez responds with polite brevity. When he admits he cut McCarthy out of a project to avoid the Brat Pack stain, we sense some interesting history about to unfold … but it fizzles quickly.

This pattern continues throughout. A charming Sheedy glows with positivity, but alludes to hard times. What was her journey from there to here? Timothy Hutton, delightfully relaxed on what appears to be his own farm, can’t wait to show off his 60,000 bees — how did that happen?

McCarthy, amiable and anxious, doesn’t get into any of this. In fact, most of his former colleagues — minus Ringwald and Nelson, who declined to participate — spend considerable time nodding quietly as he expresses his own emotions.

Moore tactfully refrains from noting that being publicly associated with other successful actors was the least of her problems as a young woman. But, like the ebullient Lowe and genial Cryer, she does gently suggest that perhaps McCarthy could reframe his still-simmering resentment.

Since this is indeed a rather slim trauma on which to hang an entire film, it feels as though McCarthy — an experienced TV director — may have hemmed himself in too tightly. Certainly he would have benefitted from additional outside perspective, which might have allowed for stronger writing, editing and direction. There are some compelling moments here, though, including sharp cultural observations from Malcolm Gladwell and Bret Easton Ellis. But also a few too many shots of McCarthy walking, driving and musing.

His engaging memoir — notably called “Brat: An ’80s Story” — went into much greater detail about his experiences as a young actor. Unlike readers, though, viewers have no way of knowing if this period was unusually tough on him for other reasons: he doesn’t address his own career much more than he does his peers’.

So why did McCarthy title his film after the beast that still haunts him? Presumably because even he knows that people actually love the Brat Pack, as well as the wistfulness their movies now inspire. That sense of nostalgia is so strong, in fact, that many will embrace “Brats” simply for the chance to briefly revisit beloved touchstones and familiar faces (This is your movie if you’ve already predicted that it ends with Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”).

And maybe someone who sees it will even be inspired to create what so many of us really want: a truly great documentary about this time, these movies and all of the complex, unforgettable people who made them.

“Brats” premiers June 13 on Hulu after debuting Friday at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival.


One response to “‘Brats’ Review: A Pretty Peeved Andrew McCarthy Revisits His Brat Pack Past”

  1. Yonnie Avatar

    I had the misfortune of working on the production staffs of three projects associated with McCarthy. Whatever his talents and whatever his accomplishments, he was a complete jerk – plan and simple. Whatever his excuses over the years struggling with the cost of fame or the strains of alcohol, his on-set behavior was nothing short of boorish, childish and unprofessional. Or as a DGA trainee running basecamp was asked how McCarthy was treating her replied: “You mean, Mr. Happy?”

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