Brats Delves Into the Label Obsession and Its Fallout [Tribeca]

Brats still of Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy.

Brats contains fascinating aspects regarding that shift in Hollywood that ushered in films for the younger demographic. But it feels shallow in its execution.

Brats looks at the young stars from the 80s in the present to explore how the term “The Brat Pack” came about and its impact, for better or worse, on the stars that shared that moniker. Andrew McCarthy, a member of that group, travels around to talk fellow members and others. McCarthy works through his resentment on the journey as other members give their perspectives and enlighten his own. While Brats feels hollow, it’s impossible to understand what that label cost the stars, which is precisely what Brats seeks to capture while closing the chapter, even if it feels the book’s left wide open. 

Directed by Andrew McCarthy, a crew follows him as he visits fellow stars from the 80s. In addition, he chats with critics, directors, and more to find out how they viewed “The Brat Pack” label then and now. The film touches on its origins. Yet there is an aspect in the documentary discussing the movies of the time that feel underdeveloped. Other parts feel merely thrown in with a “one size fits all” attitude. It highlights a need, one that occurs even now, of outlets seeking to control the direction and narrative of a film’s value and denigrating it in the hopes of halting change. But that spark is brief and all too quickly snuffed out.

Brats Emphasizes The Impact of Labels

Brats still of Robe Lowe and Andrew McCarthy.
Brats still of Robe Lowe and Andrew McCarthy. Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

One thing is apparent from the documentary. The label had professional consequences for many of the members. The Brat Pack diminished their talent, implying they were a group that did not take the craft of acting seriously. It does not change in Brats, as the writer who coined the name in his New York Magazine article sticks to his guns, suggesting he was right and helped them for the better. But that label and their internalization of it shifted them to where they actively avoided working on projects together. 

Brats Includes Unnecessary

One aspect that may confuse viewers is the role of Timothy Hutton in the Brat Pack narrative. While Andrew McCarthy claims he’s the origin, even godfather, of the Brat Pack, this assertion feels unnecessary and underdeveloped. Moreover, the inclusion of Hutton, who has faced accusations of assault, seems out of place. Despite ongoing debates about who is and is not a member of the Brat Pack, even in BRATS, no one has officially named Timothy Hutton as a possible member. This feels more like someone pulling strings to get him—Hutton—back in front of the camera.

Brats Makes Obligatory Observation

Another aspect of Brats that feels like an obligatory pass is the discussion of race in those films. Works back then, like John Hughes’ had only white characters. In fact, throughout Brats, there is one Black person, Ira Madison III—a pop culture critic—they interview who gives his input regarding the 80s youth films and the issue of race. His brief statement highlights how non-white people can connect with white characters because that was often all we had. In my I Am Not Okay With This review, I point out something similar: how the series utilizes the worst of that time with its shallow, almost nonexistent representation of non-white characters. 

Brats still of Robe Lowe and Andrew McCarthy from the 80s.
Brats still of Robe Lowe and Andrew McCarthy from the 80s. Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Then they add Malcolm Gladwell’s take, and it’s insulting to ask a person who thinks race should not be a primary focus when discussing police brutality, their thoughts on the lack of Black characters in 80s teen angst flicks. His rationale is that suburbia had few Black people then, so we can look at those for what they were. If you’re going to tackle the topic, either go in-depth or leave it out. Because, as it stands, it feels included to say, “See, we talked about it.”

Worth Watching If You’re a Fan

Brats contains fascinating aspects regarding that shift in Hollywood that ushered in films for the younger demographic. But it feels shallow in its execution. Demi Moore and Lea Thompson add some insightful gems. They discuss the industry at the time, fighting to hold onto a dying era with McCarthy. For fans of films like Pretty in Pink or St. Elmo’s FireBrats allows them to revisit clips, recall the joy, and see some of the Brat Pack members from those beloved films. But some parts feel frustrating by their inessentiality or lightness. In particular, discussing the lack of non-white characters in 80s youth films deserves an entirely separate documentary. But instead, viewers get the rudimentary checklist manner that Brats gives it.

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