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‘Brats’ reassembles the Brat Pack, mostly to vent about their ‘unjust’ nickname

<i>ABC News Studios via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy reminisce in the Hulu documentary
ABC News Studios via CNN Newsource
Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy reminisce in the Hulu documentary "Brats."

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Deeply personal approaches worked beautifully in nostalgic Michael J. Fox and Val Kilmer documentaries, but “Brats” turns Andrew McCarthy’s near-40-year-old beef about “the Brat Pack” label into an exercise in self-indulgence, too heavily skewed toward his point of view. While it’s fun seeing “The Breakfast Club” as they near “The Early-Bird Dinner Club” years, this is one of those projects that would have benefited from a more journalistic tone.

The origin of the term dates back to a New York magazine story with the headline “Hollywood’s Brat Pack,” which lumped together stars of movies like “The Breakfast Club,” “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Pretty in Pink,” playing off the “Rat Pack” nickname that defined Frank Sinatra and his celebrity pals.

McCarthy and his contemporaries, however, found the designation dismissive and insulting, underscored by rapid-fire video clips with news/“Entertainment Tonight” types throwing it around in the ‘80s, and the young actors fidgeting through questions about it from the likes of Phil Donahue, Charlie Rose and Merv Griffin.

Now in their early 60s, McCarthy – having written a memoir, “Brat: An ‘80s Story,” about his experiences – transforms that into this ABC News documentary for Hulu, which is presented almost entirely looking over his shoulder. That includes an extended sequence of him on the phone trying to set up interviews with his contemporaries, which is every bit as scintillating as that sounds.

A hit-miss collection of conversations follows, with some of the key players (Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson notable among them) taking a pass, while Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Lea Thompson, Ally Sheedy, Jon Cryer and Rob Lowe – some of whom question their own “Brat Pack” credentials – walk down memory lane, generally exhibiting less animus toward being “branded” that way than McCarthy appears to harbor.

As it happens, the most interesting exchanges come from third-party voices, such as authors Malcolm Gladwell and Bret Easton Ellis, which underscores that a sense of distance and perspective can be helpful in these situations, from noting how director John Hughes avoided issues of race to the significance of music in films of that era.

As the actors acknowledge, they benefited from a shift that saw Hollywood chasing their demographic, an emphasis on catering to youth that permeated TV as well as movies and persists to this day. Gladwell makes the astute case that such productions will never be quite the same as they were back then thanks to fragmentation brought about by streaming and an abundance of choices.

“We’ve gone from a relatively unified youth culture … to everything’s all over the place,” Gladwell observes. “There’s no common denominator.”

Mostly, “Brats” plays like a latter-day therapy session like the one the kids underwent in “The Breakfast Club,” only with the benefit of four decades of hindsight. It certainly feels like McCarthy seeks to build toward that by meeting with the writer of the article who coined “Brat Pack,” David Blum, who understands how the young actors might have seen it as dismissive or “unjust,” as Moore puts it, but doesn’t apologize for something that amounted to a playful turn of phrase half a lifetime ago.

As noted, “Brats” joins a long list of confessional and/or nostalgic documentaries, with Soleil Moon Frye’s “Kid 90” and Alex Winter’s “Showbiz Kids” among other examples.

“We fit a niche that needed to be filled in pop culture at that moment,” McCarthy says of himself and his peers back in their heyday.

Don’t look now, but “Brats” does much the same thing, filling a slightly different niche as streaming services look for ways to garner attention and distinguish themselves from the Subscription Pack.

“Brats” premieres June 13 on Hulu.

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