‘Brats’ Review: Hulu’s Brat Pack Doc Doubles as a Group Therapy Session

For viewers of a certain age — or, perhaps more likely at this point, most ages — the term “Brat Pack” evokes nostalgia at its fondest. Movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” remain rites of passage for teenagers coming of age nearly 40 years later, and few would argue that the 1980s didn’t represent a high-water mark for teen movies. For actual members of that coterie of actors, it’s a little more complicated.

That’s especially true of Andrew McCarthy, who remains so conflicted about the term coined by David Blum in his June 10, 1985 cover story for New York that he made a documentary about it (after earlier publishing a memoir entitled “Brat”). A core Brat Packer whose filmography is headlined by the likes of “Pretty in Pink” and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” McCarthy has more recently stepped behind the camera and directed episodes of “Orange Is the New Black” and “13 Reasons Why,” among other series. He continues that journey with “Brats,” a kind of feature-length group-therapy session in which he sits down with Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and others in order to finally come to terms with what it means (and meant) to be a member of that sometimes-disreputable club.

More from Variety

He receives a range of reactions. Estevez (the original subject of the article and in many ways the group’s nucleus) is in agreement with McCarthy that the whole saga was mean-spirited and harmful, Moore is so insightful that one wonders whether she might be leading a double life as a therapist and Lowe, seemingly true to form, is able to focus on the silver lining and be grateful to have been part of a watershed moment in Hollywood that changed the industry and is still being discussed today. McCarthy hasn’t seen or spoken to most of them in years if not decades — now as then, the idea that they were all close friends offscreen wasn’t completely based in reality.

There’s a woe-is-me quality to the proceedings that some viewers will likely have trouble getting past, particularly on a visual level: McCarthy, still retaining his boyish good looks at 61, spends much of the film either in a rented convertible or the luxe abodes of his fellow Brat Packers as they discuss the deleterious effects of the article and its fallout. For what it’s worth, they aren’t exactly wrong: Blum was hardly complimentary in his portrayal, and the actors’ main complaint about it — that it created the perception that they were lightweights who didn’t take their work seriously — is valid, though you might argue that correlation does not equal causation when looking at their subsequent filmographies.

There’s a visceral impact to the word “brat” nevertheless — it’s a clever play on the original Rat Pack, of course, but doesn’t evoke youth so much as petulance and immaturity. As McCarthy says to Estevez, “Marty Scorsese, Steven Spielberg’s not going to call up somebody who’s in the Brat Pack.” Estevez, for his part, once passed on a project whose screenplay he called “one of the best I’d read in a long time” because McCarthy was also attached to it and he feared how yet another Brat Pack movie would be received. That script, “Young Men with Unlimited Capital,” was never produced.

A few would-be interviewees are missing in action. McCarthy fails to track down Judd Nelson despite repeated attempts (the phrase “undisclosed location” is used, somewhat ominously) and can’t convince Molly Ringwald to sit down for an interview either, though anyone curious for her thoughts on this phase of her life would do well to read her thoughtful New Yorker article about it in the wake of #MeToo. Also conspicuous in his absence is Ringwald’s “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles” co-star Anthony Michael Hall, a Brat Packer by any definition who’s never even mentioned by name here. Given that one portion of the film is literally devoted to asking interviewees which actors they consider to have been part of the club — including Brat Pack-adjacent performers like Jon Cryer and Lea Thompson — the fact that Hall receives nary a mention is odd indeed.

McCarthy does land one surprising interview subject, however: the writer who couldn’t have known the long-lasting impact his turn of phrase would end up having. Blum isn’t exactly apologetic, stressing that a journalist isn’t supposed to be his subject’s friend and he doesn’t have any regrets. Though the former New York contributor doesn’t acquit himself especially well despite largely being right, McCarthy seems to have gotten what he needed from the experience. Whether that’s true of viewers may depend on their fondness for him and his cohort, but there’s clearly no shortage of that all these years later.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.