Andrew McCarthy talks with fellow Brat Packer in his documentary...

Andrew McCarthy talks with fellow Brat Packer in his documentary "Brats."  Credit: ABC News Studios via AP

WHAT "Brats"


WHAT IT'S ABOUT Andrew McCarthy, once one of the young movie stars that comprised the 1980s Brat Pack, sets out decades later to interrogate it in his new documentary “Brats.”

This entails reuniting with many of his fellow members of the group, first coined as such in a 1985 New York Magazine cover story. Interview subjects in the movie include Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, as well as “Brat Pack-adjacent” members such as Lea Thompson, Jon Cryer and Timothy Hutton. Molly Ringwald declines the opportunity to participate, while Judd Nelson remains elusive.

What results from all of this plays as something of a group-therapy session, with the actors in question reckoning with their feelings for the label, what it came to represent and how it impacted them personally and professionally. 

Long-standing disgust at a perceived career-defining cheap shot, bringing with it an inherent implication that “brats” could not possibly take their work seriously, has transitioned into something far more complicated.

MY SAY Few eras of movies have been as consequential as this burst of youth-flavored creativity in the '80s, resulting in icons like “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Sixteen Candles.”

For the first time, Hollywood paid close attention to young adults, prioritizing movies that evoked something both universal and highly specific about what it feels like to try and find your way in the world.

There are elements of these movies that feel dated today, of course, and noteworthy shortcomings. But they retain a sizable and generation-spanning fan base that will eagerly seek out McCarthy's documentary for nostalgia reasons.

While the filmmaker examines the broader questions about their sociological impact, putting all of this into appropriate context, he's disinterested in a simple trip down memory lane.

He constructs the picture as a sort of video diary, showing his efforts to track down these fellow Brat Pack members, most of whom he hasn't seen in decades. The conversations have a free-flowing quality that make them seem more genuine and affecting than they might have in a highly formal setting. These people who have shared this odd journey try to work out what it all meant together, in real time.

McCarthy augments this contemporaneous exploration with abundant '80s footage, including clips from movies such as “St. Elmo's Fire,” and exceptionally tense interviews from the time as the young actors get grilled about everything Brat Pack.

There's hardly anything more fundamentally human than the need to make sense of our past, to understand it and come to terms with it, in order to have a better future.

It cannot be easy to make a movie about something so personal that also manages to have its eye on that greater sense of meaning and purpose. McCarthy pulls it off because he knows how to balance his own restive journey toward inner peace, captured in this sort of spontaneous way, with a rigorous understanding of what it all says about our common humanity.

BOTTOM LINE It's a fascinating, personalized exploration of an iconic cultural moment and its continued fallout.

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