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Tribeca Film Festival 2024 – Brats ★★★★



Released: 2024

Director: Andrew McCarthy

Starring: Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Timothy Hutton, Leah Thompson, Jon Cryer

One of the iconic images in 1980s film canon is that of Rob Lowe, as a fully fledged member of the Brat Pack, wearing a well fitting yellow vest and playing the saxophone onstage, as Billy, in the seminal St Elmo’s Fire. The Brat Pack era might induce fond memories for many film fans but, according to former Brat Pack member Andrew McCarthy in his fascinating new documentary, Brats, there were negative connotations associated with such moniker which impacted many of the actors within the Brat Pack membership.

The term ‘Brat Pack’ was a riff off the Rat Pack group from the 1950s and 60s featuring entertainers and actors such as Sammy Davis Junior and Dean Martin. However, this new term initially denoted a successful group of twentysomething actors starring within coming of age films in the 80s. It was an invention of writer David Blum in a 1985 New York magazine article, after interviewing Emilio Estevez and hanging out with some of the other actors, but such a phrase ultimately stuck. McCarthy of Mannequin and Weekend at Bernie’s fame,  delves in to his impression of such term. His viewpoint was that such term implied they were spoiled, talentless and unprofessional actors. Brats reveals McCarthy’s ultimate desire to disassociate himself from such 80s term, which is considered a burden around his neck. Brats follows McCarthy’s insightful commentary, both as a subject and an interviewer, as he traverses the US seeking to re-connect with other members of the Brat Pack, some 30 years later, to discover the significance for them and any lingering impact of such term.

Brats is based on McCarthy’s book ‘Brat: An 80s Story‘ and is an honest, raw and compelling documentary. The film is interspersed with footage from Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, St Elmo’s Fire and more as it examines that level of stardom in the 80s for young actors such as Tom Cruise, Matthew Broderick, Kevin Bacon, Robert Downey Jr and, of course, the Brat Pack. Names such as Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, McCarthy, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy instantly spring to mind when thinking of the Brat Pack members. To be a member of the pack, it was simply sufficient to have starred in one or more films together, which seems to have preceded the recent practice for directors like Christopher Nolan to work regularly with the same group of actors!  

McCarthy has crafted such a personal, insightful perspective within this film which also documents his journey of self-discovery, which will keep viewers on tenterhooks. It’s undeniable that McCarthy has done well for himself as an acclaimed director and travel writer, yet the term  ‘Brat Pack’ still haunts him.  As such, Brats goes beyond the traditional formula of documentary interviews with additional commentary from Brat Pack adjacent actors, such as Lea Thompson, and pop culture writer Brett Easton Ellis amongst others forming part of its analysis. Brats remains an engaging film from start to finish. McCarthy’s talent behind the camera shines through which enables the audiences to build a relationship with him, via immersive filming, as we overhear his phone calls to family and to his former co-stars.

Thus Brats feels akin to an intimate therapy session as McCarthy works through his trauma, onscreen, with each encounter with some of his former co-stars leaving an indelible imprint and ultimately leads towards healing. Brats is such a fascinating development, similar to watching a mystery unfold, as some of McCarthy’s former co-stars are unavailable or simply wish not to re-live the experience.

On the surface, to the public, that period of Brat Pack films seemed like the glory days but this behind the scenes exposé illustrates the detriment of the brand. McCarthy undergoes a brave, personal odyssey within the film which will further endear audiences to his personable nature.

Brats is a transfixing documentary re-examining a pivotal moment in film that created many of the film stars still recognised by many generations to this day. The film demonstrates how some of the film stars survived or withdrew from further appearances together due to being categorised as a ‘Brat Pack’ member. Whilst the film may appeal to those familiar with the Brat Pack films, Brats is a well made documentary with captivating editing and storytelling to draw in most viewers. Plus, it will encourage audiences to seek out the dynamic St Elmo’s Fire and its soundtrack which will inevitably create new fans for that genre, which will be a positive effect.

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