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Tribeca Festival


Brats (2024)

Andrew McCarthy was a likable young actor in his 20s and now makes a likable documentarian in his 60s, digging back into his own past life. "Brats" follows Mr. McCarthy on a road trip visiting some of the other former members of the group of 1980s actors loosely – or lazily – grouped together by the media under the label of "the Brat Pack," although the looseness and laziness of the term are two of the things that prove to rankle interviewer and interviewees alike. Having already written an autobiography under the title "Brat: An '80s Story" in 2021, Mr. McCarthy has gone from the singular to the plural, reconnecting with actors and crew he has not seen for decades, to test whether they are still unnerved by the memory of the B-word as much as he is.

The sluice gates of nostalgia will open for anyone watching who was in their 20s at the time; and anyone that age now may wonder what exactly granddad is complaining about. A central and legitimate gripe from the old Pack-ers is that the branding (both senses perhaps) derailed early whatever unfettered career development they might otherwise have had. Emilio Estevez mentions a film in preproduction that he simply aborted, rather than star in it with Mr. McCarthy and invite the detested term into every review of the film; a memory Mr. McCarthy greets with perhaps more equanimity than he may have done at the time. Jon Cryer feels that the label arose from standard media envy, that "we needed to be knocked down a peg," proving that the whole story is one of pop-culture's inherent cyclical milling operations. A cheerful Demi Moore looks back on it as a learning experience. Molly Ringwald clearly looked back on it as a learning experience some time ago and declined to be in the documentary. Rob Lowe seems to have simply had a great time, a prince of the kingdom just as movies became fixated on young people and never moved on to anyone else. Mr. Lowe's other appearances in the headlines during the same period are left diplomatically unmentioned.

Eventually Mr. McCarthy visits David Blum, the writer of the original 1985 piece in New York magazine that coined the term Brat Pack in the first place. A strange, strained conversation ensues, with Mr. McCarthy too polite to yell at Mr. Blum about the collateral damage he feels the article caused, and Mr. Blum too firm in his journalistic integrity to feel much remorse. It's like a student confronting an old gym teacher, except that there's only seven years between them. "You were adults and you wanted to be written about," says Mr. Blum, unanswerably. After making his scars evident, Mr. McCarthy just asks the question: "Would you do anything different now?" "No."

No one would be doing anything different now, except the Brat Pack. The media landscape today is greatly altered while also exactly the same; when a TV newsreader says of the Pack "They are ambitious and committed, and many of them have real talent," the venom is timeless. "Brats" touches on the politics of John Hughes films, but not on the politics of the Pack themselves. It leaves out, for example, the way Mr. Lowe and others worked on the 1988 U.S. Presidential campaign trail with Michael Dukakis at the height of Brat Pack fame, with the actor then rejecting the label angrily as an impediment to the serious business at hand; which ended up not doing much good for Mr. Dukakis. Generation Z, frustrated enough already with the self-absorption of their predecessors and busy folding celebrity and politics and money into one seamless promotional online TikTok experience, will look at the Pack's ambivalence like something embedded in the fossil record.


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