Brats: Battling the Pack

Once a brat, always a brat. 

And Brats is an opportunity for Andrew McCarthy to test that theory. Directed by McCarthy, the new documentary follows the actor as he revisits the name that followed him for much of his career. Having been dubbed ‘the Brat Pack’ by an article in the New York Times, young actors in the mid-80s like McCarthy became joined together in the pop culture canon. Though, while outsiders may see the name as fun, the stars that it affected were deeply concerned by it. Suddenly, they lost credibility as ‘serious actors’, leaving many of them frustrated. In Brats, McCarthy finally confronts this part of his past in the hopes of moving on from it.

On the surface, Brats fits neatly into culture’s current pre-occupation pop culture documentaries. (McCarthy’s attempt to reacquaint himself with the Brat Pack (even though he isn’t entirely sure who that entails) serves as a reminder of the sheer power of the youth movement in the 1980s. Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, and many others were all front and centre amongst the pop culture zeitgeist, signaling a change in Hollywood that would resonate to this day. By exploring the impact of films like St. Elmo’s Fire and The Breakfast Club, Brats taps into the ways that nostalgia shapes us and them. (In fact, McCarthy even uses a filter that makes his footage appear to be on Super 8 film.)

But, to be quite honest, what makes Brats work is McCarthy’s candidness. Whereas pop culture seems to remember it with fondness, the ‘Brat Pack’ label has been a millstone around his neck for decades. To him (and many others), the infamous nickname was nothing but derogatory. The youth movement of the mid-1980s was meant to be a changing of the guard. However, by qualifying them as ‘brats’, McCarthy and co. believed themselves to be seen as spoiled and undeserving of their success.

What began as a pithy comment by a single writer became an inescapable stigma.

Even so, McCarthy never shies away from his own hurt. Rather than simply offer a ‘nostalgia-fest’ for fans, Brats is a genuine journey into his heart. We hear his deep-seeded resentment about the article and the effect it had on his life and career. We hear his concern for other members of the ‘Pack’ as they share stories about the anger they felt about it. This moment mattered to him personally and its genuinely surprisingly how much he bears his soul to the camera about it.

At the same time though, Brats also becomes a chance for him to reframe some of his past. While the hurt is still real, McCarthy’s willingness to confront his past also provides him the opportunity to see another side to his experiences. After all, not all the ‘Pack’ feel the same way about the moniker and the provides some much-needed perspective about the ways he’s been affected. (Whether or not he’s willing to do so remains the thrust of the film.) 

In doing so, Brats becomes an exegesis on more than pop culture. It’s an exploration into what we’re willing to hold on to emotionally. The scars upon McCarthy and his former co-stars left behind by their label is real. But Brats also suggests that there can also moments when we can look back upon the things of our past and see them as more than painful.

Maybe, after all these years, it’s not so bad being a Brat.

Brats is available on Disney+ now. 

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