Friday, June 14, 2024

Doc Watch: Brats (2024)

Watched:  06/13/2024
Format:  Hulu
Viewing:  First
Director:  Andrew McCarthy

I can remember a time in my life when I was weird about the non-John Hughes movies by "The Brat Pack".  I can't remember why.  I do remember people would say "oh, that's a Brat Pack movie" and I'd say "oh, then I won't watch that", but it was so long ago, I don't even remember what the reasoning was.  

When I figured out who was *in* the Brat Pack, I realized I was really not the market for those movies.  I was too young for the stuff produced before 1985 or so, and we didn't have HBO for me to watch those movies.  Add in whatever that vibe was, and I just never circled back to see them.  Anyway - the concept of the Brat Pack is pretty loosey goosey, with no exact filmography or even common understanding of who is in it.  We can debate that in the comments.

This doc is written and directed by former Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy, who is a writer these days, and a pretty good one.  He's digging into the fall-out and feelings of the clutch of actors discussed in a 1985 New York Magazine front page article called "The Brat Pack", written by then-young journalist David Blum.   

The article followed Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson as they went about a night-in-the-life of young Hollywood during a period when there had been a spike in movies starring, and aimed at, younger people.  It is largely considered to be a hit piece, and by 1980's standards, I guess it is.  Now it just reads like a jealous dork seeing how these extraordinarily fortunate young people spend their time.  It lumps in other actors and co-stars not in attendance and slaps the sobriquet upon them.

The doc catches up with McCarthy now almost 40 years after the fact, working through what happened to everyone.  

There's a really interesting mix in the article, because some didn't continue to be included in that bunch, and you'd be looked at curiously now for referring to Nic Cage as a Brat Packer.  Somehow James Spader and Michael Anthony Hall never get mentioned in the article or in the doc, and I need someone to explain why.

As always happens, not everyone from that era of actors continued on the trajectory they'd prefer.  A young fellow named Tom Cruise did okay.  Rob Lowe.  Demi Moore more has a mixed story.  But for some, like Andrew McCarthy, they did some more movies and then kind of just... vanished.  Whether the kinds of movies people were making changed or he couldn't get a part, I couldn't say.   Ally Sheedy shows up here and there.  Molly Ringwald has managed to become a human enigma, fleeing to France, appearing in random guest spots, movies and recently on FX's Feud.  Judd Nelson works consistently, but I haven't seen him in anything in a while.  

In many ways, the doc plays like a very long therapy session for McCarthy, who was *cleary* traumatized by what he felt was spurred by the article and mass-media's overnight adoption of the term.  And I don't think any of us can really understand what it's like to wake up one morning and find out it seems like the press is going to now treat you completely differently.  

There's no amazing revelations in the doc, but the interviews with the Brat Packers who were willing to talk to him, to publicists, producers and others who were around, cumulatively paint the picture.  Some were able to deal with it just fine (Rob Lowe seems unscathed), but some won't go on camera (Ringwald, Nelson).  And Emilio Estevez looks almost haunted having to talk about it, as the article started as a fluff piece on him.  You may also realize you miss seeing Estevez in stuff.  He was pretty solid.

There's a lot of perspectives on the table, from Laura Schuler Donner who thought it should have been cool to have a group name (which sounds like a thing a producer would tell talent so they'd buck up and keep working, but whatevs) to Malcolm Gladwell trying to spin what happened to make sense of it.  But you also learn - these people were never the cohesive unit as painted in the article.  They knew each other from set, but not really outside of it.  

I find it peculiar that a grand council of Brat Packers was never called, and even 35+ years after, no one seems to have thought of it.  But these young people were clearly left to their own devices by agents and managers who seemed to encourage the actors to stop working together.  And even producers, who stopped casting them.  How very, very differently this would have been handled these days is painfully evident.  But in a pre-internet monoculture, a magazine article actually did mean something, especially when a dumb team name could take off like wild fire.

The doc is a journey of sorts, and if you remember these people, even from just Pretty in Pink (John Cryer makes an appearance and is delightfully John Cryer), it doesn't hurt to check it out.  It can be uncomfortable seeing how clearly some of these folks live with it, but you do get the feeling this was very, very good for McCarthy and he should have done it twenty years earlier.  

Maybe the creepiest part is that the article's author, Blum, sits for an interview, and he seems utterly unable to read the room either to see what the impact of his actions did to careers and lives, or how this will play when people watch it.  And, as if to really triple down, he's now released an article catching up on everything.  It's hard to read.  It's written from a defensive posture posing as the one merely stating fact, and we all know that asshole.  I look forward to the public shellacking he'll now get to endure after being shown for just a few minutes in an unflattering light.  Be a real shame if this ruined his career and legacy.

Anyway, if you're ready to tuck into a 90 minute therapy session, there's worse ways to be nostalgic and spend your time.  But I'm still cheesed at the lack of Ringwald.  More Ringwald, I say.

(late edit:  the immediate reaction to Brats online seems to be "shut up, Andrew McCarthy, no one feels sorry for you.  You got to be a huge movie star."  Which is both sad and hilarious.  Sad because this is clearly the reaction McCarthy feared for 30-something years if he stood up for himself or talked about what it means to have mass media rewrite your story.  Hilarious because social media sites like Threads are mostly self-pity-party therapy-speak zones, and when someone is like "hey, here's this very public thing that happened to me and it was not great and ruined my career and life" Threads has decided Andrew McCarthy should shut up, smile, be pretty and be Blaine so it doesn't ruin their memories of the 1980's.  

People are amazing assholes.)


Steven said...

Really great review. I had been dragging my feet on this, but it's being advertised everywhere in NYC right now (every bus shelter, subway entrance, etc.).

As I read this, I kept thinking when's he going to drop a small little actor of that same cohort who had a fabulously chaotic several years after the piece but before becoming ANTHONY STARK: Mr. Robert Downey Jr.? But that serves to me, in my mind, to show that it wasn't a coherent "club" but just this hit-piece's intended area of impact for splatter damage (but you did remember Anthony Michael Hall, heh).

I was sitting on a barstool on the 17th floor staring down at some apartments with chaises lounges and I was trying to remember: "What_was_ the plot of 'Weekend at Bernie's,' again?" Remember that hot tar sequence? That was pretty funny (ah, form fed paper).

And uh, I too, miss Emilio Estevez. I remember seeing some pic of him back in the day with his Compaq luggable and he was bragging about how dope it was (like AMH's character in "Real Science") and how he was working on writing and researching stuff with it (full length shot of him and this suitcase bruising his calves beneath acid-washed jeans). FWIW, I now notice that he's 3 years old than his dad was when he started on "The West Wing." Egad.

Also: Yes, more Molly Ringwald.

The League said...

I consciously didn't mention RDJ in part because it then becomes a game of six degrees of separation. Where's Jami Gertz? etc... Brett Easton Ellis IS interviewed, so maybe it was right to ask. But, I also didn't want to dig into RDJ's troubled 1990's history and speculate on anything there, because that seemed singular.

Anyway, we all need more Molly Ringwald in our lives.