Demi Moore and Andrew McCarthy in Brat Pack documentary Brats on Disney+

Brats Review: The Bratty Pack

Don't you forget about me

Four decades later, it’s a label that still can’t be escaped.

In 1985 a group of hot young actors were everywhere. As movie studios began catering to young people, a new wave of coming-of-age films aimed at youth emerged, storming the box office and cementing the current crop of stars as the “Brat Pack.” For Gen Xers and elder Millennials, these were the faces of young Hollywood that dominated movies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Despite finding success and endurance in Hollywood, the “Brat Pack” label is one its members wish never existed.

Who is in the so-called Brat Pack is up for some debate, even internally among its reluctant key members and the other actors in their orbit. The most commonly accepted members include Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and Andrew McCarthy. It is McCarthy now who trains his lens on the Brat Pack in the new nostalgia-driven documentary Brats.

Nearly 40 years after the 1985 New York article by David Blum dubbed the group of young actors in their twenties “The Brat Pack” with Estevez as their unofficial leader, McCarthy has reached out to his fellow members – now all in their 50s and 60s – to reflect on what being a part of this youthful posse meant to them.

Brat Pack New York Magazine
New York magazine

Negative Connotations

It may come as a surprise to viewers who have formed such positive and influential relationships with films like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and St. Elmo’s Fire to learn that their adoration for this seemingly tight-knit group wasn’t a feeling shared by its key members. For more than a few, it’s quite a sore spot and viewed as detrimental to their careers.

“Martin Scorsese isn’t going to call up a member of the Brat Pack” laments Estevez, whose overall vibe when discussing his early career can be described as near-hostile. Perhaps Estevez has a particular ire against the term after he became the unwitting poster boy for the Pack. The Young Guns actor set out in his career with the intention to differentiate himself from his famous dad, Martin Sheen, by using his dad’s birth name instead of his stage name, only to find himself lumped into a collective by Blum and portrayed in a mostly negative light. It’s such a sore spot for Estevez that he tells McCarthy that he turns down nostalgia-focused reunions and features because of it, regardless of the widespread love the films of this era has on audiences. Ultimately, it feels like a bratty move.

Isn’t It Ironic?

Of course, the irony is not lost on viewers as they watch these stars gripe about how detrimental the pack was to their careers while conducting interviews in lavish homes and while remaining household names. It will undoubtedly rub some viewers the wrong way, especially as the still boyishly good-looking McCarthy, 61, pulls up to Malibu mansions in a red convertible. Despite his and others’ misgivings, the privilege the Brat Pack gave is abundantly clear.

The career trajectory of the Brat Pack members and hangers-on runs the gamut of success and superstardom. There are also those who are sometimes mentioned in the same breath as the Brat Pack, like Tom Cruise, James Spader, Jon Cryer, Robert Downey Jr., Mare Winningham, Kevin Bacon, Lea Thompson, and even the likes of Sean Penn, John Cusack, and Nicolas Cage. To be young in the 1980s for a lot of actors meant a tenuous link to the core group. It’s an interesting exploration of 1980s cinematic youth culture that previously hasn’t been explored by the people directly involved in such a way.

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Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy - ABC News Studio
Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy – ABC News Studio

For McCarthy, who puts his quest to track down his ‘80s co-stars via phone calls and voice messages on-camera, the film feels like an exercise in catharsis. Among fans there exists the illusion that the Brat Pack hung out together off the set, forming lasting friendships. But it’s a fantasy. Blum’s article destroyed any friendships and camaraderie the group may have felt prior and the actors mostly stopped socializing with one another. McCarthy reunites with several members of the Brat Pack for the first time in nearly 40 years for his film.

McCarthy adds interviews with casting directors and even author Malcolm Gladwell to get a sense on what effects the label had not just on the individuals directly involved but also in terms of wider pop culture. These interviews provide context and validation for McCarthy and co. when it comes to their appraisal by Hollywood. Once seen as talented individuals, they were lumped under one detrimental albeit catchy label. A “meanspirited” moniker, according to Lowe.

Sorry, Not Sorry

Blum, too, appears for an interview with McCarthy. If the filmmaker was seeking some form of apology on behalf of the Pack, they’re sorely mistaken. Although Blum’s words unwittingly had a major ripple effect beyond the individuals directly involved, he isn’t exactly apologetic, reminding McCarthy that it is not a journalist’s job to befriend their subjects. And no, he doesn’t have any regrets.

Andrew McCarthy - ABC News Studios
Andrew McCarthy – ABC News Studios

While most of the Brat Pack and their associates engage in conversation about the era with McCarthy, there are notable absences. Ringwald and Nelson declined to participate in the documentary and despite Estevez’s statements about not wanting to participate in reunions, he tells McCarthy, “It was time that we clear the air on a couple things.” Despite starring in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall’s name is oddly never mentioned in the documentary. Hall, Ringwald, and Nelson appear only in clips and archival materials in Brats.

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All Hail John Hughes

While the collective may have negative feelings towards the label, one thing they can agree on is John Hughes. Effusive in their praise for The Breakfast Club writer/director, the actors and pop culture experts acknowledge Hughes’ impact on youth cinema and culture. Part of what has made this group of actors and films endure are the positive feelings that nostalgic fans have towards them. For many young people who gravitated to the the Brat Pack, they dreamed of being part of the group of friends, which ultimately didn’t really exist. It is precisely these fans who will get the most out of Brats, seeing their teenage favourites reflect on their youth.

Ultimately, it’s Lowe who sees the silver lining in his Brat Pack membership perhaps more than anyone else. He’s the only core member who sees the Brat Pack for its part as a cultural touchstone that people are still talking about four decades later.

Brats arrives on Disney+ on June 28.



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