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Brats 0

Brats

I have seen so many hagiographic clip reels masquerading as documentaries that I kind of just presumed that Hulu’s “Brats” would be a similar love letter to the young stars of the ‘80s, the actors and actresses who shaped pop culture in the middle of the decade in a way that’s still being felt today. I’m happy to report it’s not that. It’s an ambitious, introspective look at how pop culture and acting careers can be shaped by reputation and even just a nickname. The words “Brat Pack” became something of an anchor on the careers of the people deemed in this exclusive club of beautiful, successful young stars. One of its members, Andrew McCarthy, is at a point in his life that a lot of us reach when we ask ourselves how they got here. 

“Brats” makes a convincing case that the Brat Pack itself emerged from a shift in the cinematic landscape from movies made about adults for adults to a direct targeting of a younger audience through younger stars like Tom Cruise in “Risky Business” and Kevin Bacon in “Footloose.” Riding that wave were the members of what would become known as The Brat Pack. Using the rule that a Brat Pack movie stars at least two of the core members place the first such film as 1983’s “The Outsiders,” but the same year’s “Class” feels more in tune with what people remember about this group, and that’s followed by the John Hughes movies like “Sixteen Candles” and especially “The Breakfast Club.” Much of “Brats” discusses exactly who is in the Brat Pack – Jon Cryer definitely didn’t want the label back then, and Lea Thompson is more adjacent than in the club – but the most commonly agreed upon members are McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy.

Their lives were changed in 1985 when a journalist named David Blum started a profile for Emilio Estevez for New York Magazine, noticing how much his subject and colleagues had a different level of popularity, coining the terms Brat Pack, which has an unbelievable origin story that Blum elucidates in a fantastic interview late in the film. Seriously, I was so happy that McCarthy got to talk to the man who shifted his entire life in a way he couldn’t have possibly predicted. The discussion is excellent when it comes to the complex dynamics that can sometimes arise between journalists and stars. McCarthy really gets to the core of what “Brats” is about in this interview, noting how Blum essentially took control of his career with what seems like a flippant nickname. As someone says earlier in the film, Martin Scorsese wouldn’t call “The Brat Pack,” so the label became a stop sign for these performers, some of whom took years to shake it off, and some who arguably never did.

McCarthy’s film consists primarily of conversations between McCarthy and former Brat Pack members like Estevez, Lowe, Sheedy, and Moore, some of whom he hasn’t seen in decades. One of the most shocking elements of “Brats” for fans of these actors (and that era) may be how much it feels like the label broke up a band some hardcore fans would like to think is still running around a library on detention. Estevez says that a project with him and McCarthy immediately fell apart as every actor in this group fled the label to try to further their careers. Moore seems to have reached the best place about it all, putting it in a context that’s downright moving regarding how much we tend to wallow in things we cannot change and how growth can only come when we stop.

McCarthy smartly refuses to turn “Brats” into mere reminiscence, even going so far as to get cultural commentary from luminaries like Malcolm Gladwell and the great critic Kate Erbland. What he’s done with “Brats” is turn a label into a conversation. Why do we need pop culture brands to help us define what we love? What happens to artists when we put them in creative boxes? There are times when it feels almost like McCarthy is tackling too much, especially when the film diverts to become a sort of love letter to John Hughes for a bit too long. Still, I’ll gladly take a documentary about a pop culture moment with too much to talk about when so many of them feel like they have nothing to say beyond what we already know and love.

I’m just old enough to remember the explosion of fame that greeted the Brat Pack, who some may forget were barely old enough themselves to know what was happening. The well-spoken Lowe makes an intriguing case that the Brat Pack were the main driving force in an entire cultural shift to stories of young people, which gives “Brats” unexpected poignancy in that these actors and actresses who made such an impact were reduced to an undeniably insulting label. “Brats” is a reclamation and a reshaping of that label. And it’s overdue.

On Hulu now.