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(Check out Chris Reed’s Brats movie review, the doc is steaming now on Hulu. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Mental-health therapy can be expensive and last for years; have you considered making a movie about what ails you, instead? Such is the approach adopted by actor-turned-director Andrew McCarthy, he of such 1980s hits like Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire, in his new documentary, Brats. And what is the root of his long-simmering discontent? A certain 1985 New York Magazine article by David Blum, which forever linked McCarthy and other stars of his generation under the label “The Brat Pack.”

As McCarthy explains, he was just getting started in the business, along with folks like Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy, when he suddenly found himself the focus of intense media scrutiny for not only acting in successful movies, but ostensibly embodying a new wave of talent. What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, it seems the article, and subsequent coverage, also addressed the circle’s entitlement and, to some, questionable abilities (a note to the journalists in the archival footage: ask less inane questions, please).

Just like that, many of these newly minted A-listers became self-conscious about their onscreen partners, wanting to establish themselves away from the others, moving forward and away in careers than ran the gamut in terms of later success. In the course of this often-moving, nostalgia-soaked cinematic meditation, McCarthy and his peers examine the legacy and fallout of the infamous moniker. Did they overreact? Should they have just played it cool? These are the questions.

Certainly, the members of the 1960s Rat Pack, after whom Blum chose his own phrase, would have taken it all in stride. That was kind of their thing. Not so these anxious, sensitive newcomers. No carefree “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” for them! Their anthems were more filled with apprehension, like “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” As a member of Generation X, I get it.

McCarthy’s genial approach here is to call up each supposed member of the loosely defined Brat Pack and invite them to be in his documentary. Who is actually part of the group—or merely adjacent to it—becomes an entertaining topic of discussion at one point. He doesn’t convince them all, but the film does feature Estevez, Lowe, Moore, and Sheedy, as well as Jon Cryer, Lea Thompson, and Thompson’s husband, director Howard Deutch (who helmed Pretty in Pink). John Hughes, the paterfamilias of the era’s youth films, passed away in 2009.

They form a fascinatingly reflective bunch, not only journeying down memory lane, but expressing genuine words of wisdom from which we could all benefit. Joining them are select pop-culture critics and writers, including IndieWire’s Kate Erbland, Crooked Media’s Ira Madison III, The Tipping Point and Blink author Malcolm Gladwell, and Bret Easton Ellis of American Psycho fame. Brats, as a result, becomes a solid examination of far more than merely McCarthy’s wounded psyche.

Though it is that, as well, and the documentary goes full ouroboros on us when McCarthy finally sits down with Blum, who started it all. Their conversation is tense, at times, but also generous and warm. Sometimes a catchphrase is just a catchphrase, after all. Ring that ding, but also … we haven’t forgotten about you, so be thankful for that.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Hulu; Brats documentary movie; Andrew McCarthy

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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