Friday , July 19 2024
(L to R): Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy in 'Brats' (courtesy of Tribeca FF)

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Brats’


Based on Andrew McCarthy’s Brat: An ’80s Story (2021), and directed by McCarthy, Brats screened in the Spotlight category at the Tribeca Film Festival 2024. An entertaining study, the documentary approaches the last 20-something Hollywood generation to come out of studio-directed films. McCarthy (Class, Pretty in Pink, St Elmo’s Fire, Mannequin) rests on his laurels as a “Brat Packer.” With fellow “Brat Packers” he examines the history of the ’80s teen film zeitgeist through the perspective of age and wisdom.

Additionally, Brats reveals McCarthy’s versatility and talent beyond acting. As an author and TV director (Gossip Girl, etc.), McCarthy aptly employs all of his talents in this film. With his reflections, narrative, and the input from those he interviews, he creates an enjoyable and profound retrospective documentary.

McCarthy Calls up Film Ensemble Actors with Whom He Worked

McCarthy begins by arranging visits with ensemble members he hasn’t seen or talked to for years. These include many of the cast of St. Elmo’s Fire, etc., and other successful actors branded as “Brats.” Criss-crossing the country, he goes to Los Angeles, upstate New York, and elsewhere. With actors and others who can inform the discussion, they review the negative connotations of the meme, “The Brat Pack.”

(L to R): Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, film clip used in 'Brats' (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
(L to R): Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, film clip used in ‘Brats’ (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

McCarthy includes social critics like Malcolm Gladwell along with agents, producers, managers, and critics. With them he examines the legacy and impact of the “Brat Pack” label. Actors Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and others discuss the historical significance of trends at the time. Also, social critics contrast the period in the 1980s with current trends in film, media, and technology.

By the conclusion, McCarthy and the subjects put to rest the negativity and bad connotations associated with the handle. Ironically, the personal importance of this to McCarthy moves front and center. He and his subjects highlights the damage done by judgmental, hurtful words. Though older individuals may overlook criticism or backhanded insults, younger individuals still forming their personalities, directions, and careers often do not.

Affirming the Power of Words to Harm

The American public and media have come to realize the power of words and their influence more than ever. Thanks to ex-president Donald Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, conservative news and social media weaponize his insults and lies to destroy lives. Viewed in the light of our present, McCarthy’s film speaks to the power of media and of words to harm.

Vitally, McCarthy reveals the necessity to reflect, redefine, and redeem that kind of hurt and turn it into a blessing. His conversation with Demi Moore makes this point.

Finally, McCarthy returns to the heat-seeking missile, the originator of the meme “The Brat Pack,” David Blum. With Blum, he discusses why and how the journalist came up with the demeaning label.

The heart of the film explores how the zeitgeist of a young generation of beautiful actors began. Primed to take over Hollywood, they became skewed with the “Brat Pack” meme. Blum’s New York Magazine cover story scathingly focused on these successful stars. But the glaring spotlight demeaned their upward trajectory. Blum primarily highlights Emilio Estevez, who agreed to an interview. The journalist also threw shade on fellow actors Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Timothy Hutton, McCarthy, and others.

In McCarthy’s well-edited interviews, actors, agents, and critics surmise about Blum’s intentions. Most probably he hoped to ride on the coattails of the actors’ fame to skyrocket his own journalism career.

(L to R): Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy from the perspective of wisdom, 'Brats' (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
(L to R): Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy from the perspective of wisdom in ‘Brats’ (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

David Blum’s Unwitting Negative Influence

Years later at his apartment, Blum admits to McCarthy that The New Yorker had commissioned eight articles. At one point he states that the article didn’t receive the notoriety he expected. Not a friend of Estevez, Blum watched as the actors received all the attention at a club where they met. An unknown who received no attention, Blum at 29 created a negative spin with what he saw.

The actors and others agree that Blum unfairly branded them. Indeed, McCarthy includes clips of popular TV shows during the time (Phil Donahue, etc.). There, the actors answer to TV hosts. Hosts question them about the meme that turned them into arrogant, privileged “brats” with all the attendant connotations. Even Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel commented to a TV host about Blum’s scathing label.

An older Blum reveals how he came up with the meme (no spoiler – see the film). The reality speaks to the difference from what the original article implies. In the New York Magazine article, Blum contrasts the actors to Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack.” On the one hand, “Rat Pack” signifies talent and a manly cachet for living the high life in Las Vegas. On the other hand, the “Brat Pack” implies spoiled children. The meme dismissed their talent and hard-won success. The stigmatized actors felt belittled. And it occurred at the wrong time. Indeed, they had to make hard decisions and figure out the direction of their lives and careers. Blum assumed their friendships extended past their film roles, a falsification to excite and pander to fans.

Why Didn’t Blum Tie in the Actors’ Skills?

McCarthy tells us the friendships ended when the shooting ended. Instead of commenting on the actors’ superior acting chops, Blum created a fabrication. Indeed, blindsided, when McCarthy saw the article, he thought, “F*ck.” He felt stereotyped, left without any “wiggle room” (an anathema to actors). The others agree when McCarthy states, “I lost control of the narrative of my career.” Not focusing on the actors’ craft, Blum implied “the brats” just craved fame and fun. Of course, seeking fame kills careers faster than a bullet. Without substance, talent and great effort, an actor can’t sustain his career.

Interestingly, until McCarthy contacted them, they never discussed the label together, though perhaps they should have. In fact, the branding drove them away from each other. Estevez claims he ran from the association. Also, the meme put the studios on notice that journalists considered the actors in the teen films fair game for torment.

Afterward, the money-making teen films tapered off. Estevez references the script for Unlimited Capital that he and McCarthy considered at one point. Estevez rejected any participation as a result of the meme and negative connotations.

Even if one isn’t a fan of the John Hughes era of ’80s teen movies, Brats delights. The film clips of the time engage. We see the always-fun then-and-now portraits of actors. They include Lea Thompson, Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Tim Hutton, Jon Cryer, Demi Moore, and others. McCarthy selects salient comments from his subjects which relate to us today. Using film clips, TV clips, and current and past interviews, he creates a memorable film that reveals profoundly current themes.

Andrew McCarthy’s Brats is a must-see. Brats screens on Hulu. Its screenings at Tribeca Film Festival have passed.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' ( 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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