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'Brats': Brat Pack documentary from Andrew McCarthy argues group 'never was any real thing,' but they were 'kryptonite' for each other

McCarthy speaks to Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and more '80s stars about the impact of the Brat Pack label

From St. Elmo's Fire to The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, a set of beloved '80s movies significantly impacted the careers of a group of young actors, called the Brat Pack. While these actors, like Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Rob Lowe, are still incredibly beloved to this day, Andrew McCarthy sets out to explore the implications of the Brat Pack label on their personal and professional lives in the documentary Brats (now on Disney+ in Canada).

McCarthy's journey on this topic started when he wrote his book "Brat: An '80s Story," and he's been particularly vocal about not being a fan of the term. This time around he shifted the focus on what the other members of this cultural phenomenon think about the moniker they got as a group.

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But that's easier said than done, because there isn't even consensus on who is actually part of the Brat Pack. Is it specifically the St. Elmo's Fire cast? Well no because Molly Ringwald is one of the most identified members of the Brat Pack, but she wasn't in that film. Is it just actors in John Hughes movies? Well that's not correct either because St. Elmo's Fire isn't one of his films.

As McCarthy explained, that confusion proves the Brat Pack was more of broad idea of young actors who were the hottest thing in Hollywood at the time.

"It's really just an idea, ... it never was any real thing," McCarthy told Yahoo Canada.

The cast of 'St. Elmo's Fire', directed by Joel Schumacher, 1985. Left to right: Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Judd Nelson and Andrew McCarthy. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
The cast of 'St. Elmo's Fire', directed by Joel Schumacher, 1985. Left to right: Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Judd Nelson and Andrew McCarthy. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The Brat Pack name was first published on the cover of New York Magazine in 1985, which read "Hollywood Brat Pack," part of an article written by journalist David Blum.

"I just remember seeing that cover and thinking, ‘Oh f**k,'" McCarthy recalls in Brats. "I just thought that was terrible, instantly, and it turns out I was right."

"The article was scathing about all these young actors and the phrase, being such a clever, witty phrase, it caught the zeitgeist instantly and burned deep, and that was it. From then on my career and the career of several other people was branded without any wiggle room as the Brat Pack."

As Estevez highlights in the film, after that magazine was published the stars were "kryptonite" for each other professionally.

It actually all started with Estevez, the article was set to be a feature piece, a profile on the actor specifically, but as we learn in Brats, a dinner invitation changed that focus.

One of the most impactful parts of the documentary is when McCarthy talks to Blum about the article. As Blum explains in the documentary, he ended up having dinner with several people, including Lowe and Nelson, in addition to Estevez, for the article. Blum highlights in the film that Lowe was getting a lot of "special attention" that night.

In the midst of working on the piece, Blum shared a meal with a group of friends, also journalists, and after eating a significant amount of food Alan Richman from People magazine referred to the the group as the "fat pack." That was floating in Blum's mind when he had to come up with a headline for his story, and that's when the Brat Pack was created.

When McCarthy speaks to Blum in Brats, the first time they had ever met, it's an awkward exchange, but incredibly fascinating as a viewer.

"I'd never met David and I thought if I was going to do a movie about this, he certainly should be a part of it, because he's sort of like the fifth Beatle," McCarthy said. "It's been following him around in his professional life, just the same way it's been following us forever."

"My agenda [was] to sort of see what [his] experience has been with this, because ... it's been attached to him as much as it's been attached to us. And so I was just curious how he felt about it."

One thing to note, which is covered in the documentary, is that part of what made these '80s movies so popular at the time is that this was really the first time Hollywood was making movies starring young people, about young people and for young people, and taking them seriously.

McCarthy explains to Blum that he felt that article resulted in him feeling like he "lost control of the narrative" of his career, because it positioned these actor as professionals who just wanted to be "crazy" and "party."

Interestingly, Blum responds by saying that McCarthy is different because he went to acting school. Blum even clarifies in the documentary that he references other actors, highlighting Tom Cruise, who didn't have that educational background.

What's fascinating about that, watching this in 2024, is that acting training doesn't feel particularly connected to someone's seriousness as an actor right now. It maybe impacts their skills, but not necessarily public perception of their commitment to the job.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 07: Andrew McCarthy and David Blum speak onstage at the
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 07: Andrew McCarthy and David Blum speak onstage at the "BRATS" premiere during the 2024 Tribeca Festival at BMCC Theater on June 07, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

It also brings up the thought, did this whole Brat Pack controversy really just start because a journalist went out with a group of young heartthrobs who were getting a lot of attention, the implied subtext that they were getting more attention than he was, and that was the basis of a public evaluation of the larger group of actors?

"This is maybe not the best analogy, but Woody Allen at one point in his travails of recent memory said, ... 'I'm cool with it because of the Knicks tickets,'" Blum tells McCarthy in the documentary. "There's trade-offs to being a celebrity and some of it is positive, you get whisked around the gate to get into the nightclub."

But Blum and McCarthy aren't so far apart in the impact of the Brat Pack. While Blum says he's "proud" of his work, he "hopes it's not the greatest thing [he] ever did."

As McCarthy points out in the film, that statement makes him sound like a member of the Brat Pack, who just wanted to be able to be known as more than a member of this group of young people.

Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy on set of the film 'Pretty In Pink', 1986. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)
Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy on set of the film 'Pretty In Pink', 1986. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

Throughout Brats, as McCarthy talks to many of former costars, we do see different perspectives on the Brat Pack label. The one consistent note from the actors is that there was a shift in terms of auditioning or have professional meetings after that New York Magazine article.

But ultimately, as Demi Moore points out, maybe McCarthy has been taking it particularly personally.

"You made that mean something about you that then created a limitation in you expression," Moore says to McCarthy in the film.

And the significant matter here is that much of the public, individuals who watched these moves in the '80 and generations later, still love these actors and these films.

"The public was always smarter than us," McCarthy said. "When people approach me on the street all the time and they start talking about those movies, ... I realized they're talking [about] themselves. ... They have such fondness for that time, like we all do."

"Those movies are still watched, I think it's because they honoured and respected young people and took young people seriously, and their feelings seriously, in a way that movies before them had not. There's no more fraught time emotionally in life than late adolescence, early 20s, when everything is monumental. So dramatic and emotional."

We'll never know whether, if we could go back in time, removing the Brat Pack label would have helped or hurt the careers of these actors, but they've all be quite successful. While some of these films haven't aged as well as others, there are themes about youth that are still incredibly relevant and important, and we all have respect for the actors who made them.