‘Brats’ Review: A Surprisingly Affecting Story About Perspective and Growing Up in the ’80s

Kevin Taft reviews Brats, an excellent look at the group of iconic teen actors referred to as The Brat Pack, and how they reflect on their careers and time as major Hollywood stars.
User Rating: 9

For anyone who was a teenager in the ‘80s, the Brat Pack and all that went along with the moniker was a significant touchstone in their lives. To be transparent, that was me. I began high school in 1981, so I was finding myself just as MTV was igniting television screens, teen comedies and horror movies were all the rage at the cineplex, and iconic pop music was inundating the airwaves.

However, the term “Brat Pack” was not received fondly by those who were a part of it. Journalist David Blum famously wrote an article for New York Magazine that was supposed to be an in-depth interview with actor Emilio Estevez, who was starting to make a name for himself outside of his famous father, Martin Sheen. The interview took place at restaurants and clubs where Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson joined Estevez, so the article’s focus shifted to this new breed of young actors being mobbed like the Beatles when out in public.

The cover story was titled “Hollywood’s Brat Pack,” a play on the ‘50s crooners who made up the “Rat Pack,”  and the moniker stuck – much to the chagrin of those that were included. Among them Lowe, Nelson, Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, and Molly Ringwald.

See Also: SXSW 2024: ‘Y2K’ Is a 90s Fueled Nostalgia Trip Down Memory Lane

With the release of St. Elmo’s Fire shortly after, the endless interviews and TV appearances continually brought up the name. It became a scarlet letter of sorts, causing audiences and Hollywood insiders to look at the group of actors as kids who didn’t take their work seriously and spent most of their time partying. None of which was true. Mostly. I mean, they were kids in their twenties with the world at their feet.

Andrew McCarthy discussed this in his autobiography Brat: An ‘80s Story. Now, he has produced a documentary called Brats, in which he visits the former members of the Brat Pack and asks how the moniker affected their careers and how they feel about it 35 years later.

He visits many of the key players, like Sheedy, Moore, and Estevez, and also talks to those tangentially related to the Brat Pack, like Jon Cryer (McCarthy’s co-star in Pretty in Pink), Lea Thompson (Some Kind of Wonderful), and her husband Howard Deutch, who directed both of those films.

What is so surprising about the documentary is that, at first, you might feel like this is a pity party for a group of actors whose careers have taken different trajectories. Some are still stung by the name they were lumped into, while others have been able to embrace it and move on.

But as McCarthy’s journey progressed, it became more than that. It’s a story about changing perspective on something that might have seemed like a curse at the time but, in a way, became a blessing. Movies like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and St. Elmo’s Fire have become part of film history, enduring decades later being embraced by younger audiences for its depiction of a singular time in history, and still adored by the audiences that grew up loving them.

But that’s not all. The film touches on how different that time was in entertainment. Movies about real teenagers – their problems, feelings, and struggles – weren’t at the forefront of the movie business. But with the films of John Hughes and movies like The Outsiders and My Bodyguard, teen stories not only became a focus for filmmakers, they became a cash cow.

There was a shift at that time that directed Hollywood to aim its films at the 18 to 24-year-old crowd, and in doing so, studios made money, and younger audiences got to see themselves on screen. Sure, diversity in those films was slim to none, but there was still a relatable aspect to the films as they often focused on those who felt they were on the outside looking in. As a kid figuring out he was gay, this was a reason I was drawn to these movies.

Also of the time was the advent of VHS, where kids could literally hold a movie in their hands and put it on whenever they wanted. Friends would watch their favorites over and over, memorizing lines and scenes, figuring out which of their buddies was a “Bender” or “Claire” from The Breakfast Club.

Even movies in the theater were there for months at a time, so teens would see them repeatedly because you never knew when you’d ever get to see them again. While there were a lot of films to see, it was nothing like the onslaught we see today, what with the advent of streaming services and cable. Because of this, teenagers of the day all saw the same movies around the same time, so there was a common frame of reference. We all had a universal shorthand. With so much content available today, finding commonality with what friends and acquaintances are viewing is more challenging and compartmentalized. And I think that’s why ‘80s pop culture endured.

It’s nice to see McCarthy reconnecting with his old castmates even after decades (Absent are Nelson and Ringwald, who declined to take part). Those featured all have a unity from what they experienced during the ‘80s as their stars began to rise and they dealt with the media and fans. McCarthy even has a lengthy discussion with the author of the article, who, to be honest, doesn’t seem to be all that concerned with the negative tone the article leaned into. However, as Demi Moore explains, he was young too. He was figuring himself out as a journalist, just as the actors were figuring out their place in the industry. It’s that empathy that makes this such a compelling study.

But what ends up being the most special and surprising about Brats is how so many of the actors involved say they wouldn’t change how that one article affected their careers. That brand of “The Brat Pack” allowed the world to still be discussing these actors and their films almost forty years later. Their performances made an impact, and for better or worse, The Brat Pack has become a term of endearment among those who embraced the group back when they, too, were just coming into their own.

Brats will be available to stream on Hulu starting June 13, 2024.

Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

Your Vote

4 0

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.