‘Brat Pack,’ ‘Nepo Baby’ And How Celebs Continue To Miss The Point Of Media Labels

‘Brat Pack,’ ‘Nepo Baby’ And How Celebs Continue To Miss The Point Of Media Labels

‘Brat Pack,’ ‘Nepo Baby’ And How Celebs Continue To Miss The Point Of Media Labels

(Left to right) Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy on set of “Pretty In Pink” in 1986. Paramount Pictures via Getty Images

It takes about 30 minutes of writer-director Andrew McCarthy’s new documentary “Brats” to realize that it’s not really about anything. Or rather, it’s about vaguely hurt feelings.  

That’s not to seem inconsiderate. Celebrities are human and well within their right, just as much as anyone else, to explore the difficult emotions they have about something that has impacted them — for better and worse. 

“Brats” is trying to have a complex conversation, though it mostly exists on vibes. The film reflects on the effects of the “Brat Pack” moniker, given to a group of young white movie stars in the ’80s, including McCarthy, by journalist David Blum in a 1985 New York magazine article

It was a nod to the “Rat Pack,” which referenced a similarly popular group of entertainers but from the ’40s and ’50s — including Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin — that was a catchy phrase to describe wildly successful superstars/friends who often partied and worked together. 

According to legend, it was actor Lauren Bacall who originally came up with the otherwise throwaway name when she walked in on Davis, Frank Sinatra, Martin and the others having an alcohol-fueled good time in Vegas one evening and said, “You look like a goddamn rat pack.”

Then she turned on her heels and walked away, probably. 

OK, that last line was added there for effect. But also to highlight a phrase Bacall likely instantly forgot about. Davis, Sinatra and the others were well respected and enjoyed success throughout the end of their lives, apparently unaffected by the “Rat Pack” label. 

(Left to right) Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, aka the (Left to right) Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, aka the

(Left to right) Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, aka the “Rat Pack,” in 1960. GAB Archive via Getty Images

McCarthy has a different perspective of what happened to him and his group, though. Or so he aims to articulate in “Brats.” 

Yes, he and his peers — including Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez — were making big money, went to clubs and often co-starred in films like 1985’s “St. Elmo’s Fire.” But they were also, as per the director’s biggest gripe, serious actors

They were in great films like 1980’s “Ordinary People,” 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” 1983’s “The Outsiders” and “Risky Business,” and 1985’s “Back to the Future” and “The Breakfast Club.” McCarthy feels like the article and moniker that followed the actors in other interviews, which he includes in archival form in the film, didn’t capture that.

For whatever it’s worth at this point, Blum’s article does a very good job of dropping the reader right into the scene, illuminating its actor subjects exactly where they’re at (a bustling scene at the Hard Rock Cafe in LA, to be exact) ― which is the mark of any great writing. It captures the point that they’re young, white-hot in Hollywood and having lots of fun with their new fame.

What it doesn’t do is create a particularly flattering image of the stars. They come off a little flighty and self-involved. For instance, Estevez checks out a “Playmate of the Month” nearby. It’s also sarcastic at times, complete with a list of Brat Pack superlatives, such as “The Hottest of Them All — Tom Cruise, 23” or “The Most Gifted of Them All — Sean Penn, 24.” 

It’s cheeky, and gets its largest point across that a traditionally older Hollywood had seemingly suddenly birthed a previously elusive class of young actors in their 20s that were thriving. 

The cast of The cast of

The cast of “St. Elmo’s Fire” in 1985. (Left to right) Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Judd Nelson and Andrew McCarthy. Silver Screen Collection via Getty Images

To put this into a more current perspective, consider it along the lines of how Elle magazine recently published its “Hollywood Rising Class of 2024” package highlighting the new and hot young stars on the block. Blum’s article pulls off the veneer, but it accomplishes a similar thing. 

From a journalist perspective, the “Brat Pack” piece, which only mentions McCarthy once, by the way, is a masterful snapshot that serves as a good reminder that journalists aren’t interviewing stars to be their friends. They’re there to tell the truth about what they see and what you tell them. Nothing more.

That’s a hard fact that McCarthy only kinda realizes in “Brats,” even though Estevez, who the director interviews at what appears to be a mansion in the film, is the one to raise this point for him. “Brats” follows McCarthy as he attempts to reunite with some of the actors mentioned in or associated with the “Brat Pack” article to hear their thoughts on how it affected them.

In short, it didn’t seem to have as grave an impact on them as it did on McCarthy’s sense of self and his own career. Moore, who recently garnered acclaim at the Cannes International Film Festival for “The Substance,” adds crucial nuance, reminding McCarthy that they were all young and, for her in particular, juggling both ambition and excess. They were far from perfect.

Lowe playfully asks McCarthy whether a certain drunken night even happened, alluding to an evening where Davis himself appeared, during a rare clashing of both worlds. Lowe’s and McCarthy’s conversation infuses the film with a hint of nostalgia while reflecting on hard-learned facts about themselves and the privilege they all had early in their careers.

McCarthy and Rob Lowe in 1985.McCarthy and Rob Lowe in 1985.

McCarthy and Rob Lowe in 1985. ABC News Studios

The interviews with actors Lea Thompson, Ally Sheedy, Jon Cryer and Timothy Hutton, who are all steadily working as the aforementioned, are versions of the same thing, and once again raise a critical question about “Brats”: What is it about, actually? We don’t really get the answer.

McCarthy continues to seek a sense of justification for his feelings as he meets with “Pretty in Pink” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” producer, Lauren Shuler Donner, who rightfully tells him that “Brat Pack” was one of the best things that actually happened to his career. Because then everybody knew his name

Bingo. Not every actor gets to say that.

As if finally coming to terms with what he’s projecting with the title of his film, it’s scenes that highlight McCarthy’s curiosity and humility that are far more interesting to watch yet few and far between. Like when the director sits down with Blum, who graciously appears in the film and essentially tells him that he would write the exact same article today after he’s pressed about it.

It’s clear that McCarthy in this moment seeks some kind of acknowledgment of wrongdoing that he doesn’t ever really get. They have a very thoughtful conversation that may or may not have satisfied the director, but certainly crystallizes the obvious misunderstanding between journalist and subject. 

The recognition of privilege is something no one puts into sharper focus than Ira Madison III, a Black and queer cultural critic who is also the only non-white person in the entire documentary. Madison tells McCarthy that Black folks like him who grew up watching films with “Brat Pack” members were compelled to see themselves in their stories. And they often did so fondly.

Frustratingly, McCarthy doesn’t really engage with what Madison is actually saying there. He acknowledges it as true, but it would have behooved the director, amid his own seemingly self-obsessed rant about a nearly 40-year-old moniker, to also think about the advantages he was also granted with it that eluded many others. 

Demi Moore and McCarthy in a moment from Demi Moore and McCarthy in a moment from

Demi Moore and McCarthy in a moment from “Brats.” ABC News Studios

There are several discussions that would have deepened “Brats,” which ultimately leaves the audience with the question of, well, were they brats, actually? Was the label deserved in that way? Considering the way the documentary unfolds, an even more awkward question rises to the fore: Is McCarthy still a brat?

Maybe that’s his point, but that would be a bit of a cop-out. There’s a great opportunity here to truly delve into what it feels like to have to wrestle with whether you’re a good actor or just famous, young and white? Blum’s article, to McCarthy’s overarching point, leaves that unclear.

But that’s how a lot of media labels function. They don’t exist to validate the actor or their talent. (That’s what their management team should be doing). They’re there to engage with their readers and audience, to help identify this person or group of people in a fun and/or truthful way so that they’re remembered at all

Many celebs are vying for the attention of audiences. Not all of them get to be part of a “Brat Pack” or be the “Sexiest Man Alive,” or certainly not a “Nepo Baby,” a phrase that merely speaks to an undeniable truth about privilege in Hollywood yet somehow still manages to confuse. These are labels that make up some semblance of truth about who they are as celebrities. 

By the end of “Brats,” it’s hard to tell whether McCarthy actually reconciles any of that. Actor Judd Nelson, one of several actors he spends much of the film trying in vain to connect with (Ringwald is another one), finally calls him back. 

Will that conversation be just another trip down memory lane to satisfy nostalgia-hungry audiences or another effort for McCarthy to validate his own conflicted feelings? Or will he actually feel challenged? We never get to see how the conversation with Nelson plays out. The movie ends there, and so does any hope that anyone learns anything from this.  

“Brats” premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival and will drop on Hulu June 13. 

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