New document reveals impact of ‘Brat Pack’ label on ’80s stars: NPR

St. Elmo’s Fire actors Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Judd Nelson and Andrew McCarthy.

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What do you think of Andrew McCarthy’s in-depth, earnest, often smug and sometimes clueless documentary about Hollywood’s so-called “actor pack” — titled, somewhat self-consciously, Kids – may depend on what you think about the whole phenomenon in the first place.

Kids does a great job of reminding us why we should care about this topic. He notes that the success of films aimed at teenagers in the 1980s – particularly John Hughes films like The breakfast club And Pretty in pinkwith that of Joel Schumacher St. Elmo’s Fire – represented a turning point where the film industry began to feature coming-of-age films, often with the same group of young actors.

McCarthy, who was in both Pretty in pink And Fire of St. Elmo, joins a group of emerging talents who will become major stars, including Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe. The films they starred in – often featuring high school students struggling in various circumstances to find love or acceptance – channeled the struggles of young people around the world, transforming them into Beatles-level stars.

“Hollywood has discovered the box office potential of a young audience,” McCarthy says in a dark narration about clips from films as disparate as Risky Business, Dirty Dancing, Back to the Future, Footloose And A strange science. “It seemed like every weekend there was another movie, another movie, and another movie about and featuring young people. In the history of Hollywood, it had never been like this.

Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy and David Blum at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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Set Brat Pack

But then journalist David Blum wrote an article in 1985 for new York magazine called “Hollywood’s Brat Pack”, centered around their time partying with Estevez, Lowe and Nelson, which threw shade at the group – lumping them together as unprofessional and overly privileged, while giving them a nickname that would follow them everywhere for decades. (One line described them as “a traveling group of famous young stars looking for parties, women and good times,” shortly before noting that none of them had earned a college degree.)

McCarthy, who admits that he aspired to be a particularly serious actor at the time, really bristled at the term, refusing much to talk about it publicly. In another delicious irony that the film fails to explore, Blum’s original article refers to McCarthy in a way that implies the author may not even have seen him as a authentic member of the Brat Pack at the time – despite the actor’s insistence that the term affected how he was perceived in Hollywood.

That’s why it’s surprising to see footage of him at the start of Kidscalling on actors he’s never been very close to but has been professionally involved with for nearly 40 years – suggesting they reunite in front of the cameras for a documentary he’s directing and will star in – to actually talk of this Brat Pack story.

Estevez, whom the article refers to as the “unofficial president of the Brat Pack,” seems cagey even when speaking for the documentary, while still being eager to get some things off his chest. Soon enough, he apologized for refusing to star in a film with McCarthy shortly after the article was published, for fear of fueling the narrative.

“It was naive of me to think that this journalist would be my friend,” admits Estevez, while emphasizing that he had never participated in a story in a major magazine before the Blum story. “I had already seen a different path for myself. And I felt derailed.

Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy on the set of Pretty in pink in 1986. Molly Ringwald was not involved in the Kids documentary.

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A film with two messages

Scenes like this allow Kids work on several different levels at once. Through McCarthy’s own words and his encounters with other Brat Packers like Estevez, Sheedy, Moore, and Lowe, we get a sense of the people at the heart of a massive pop culture phenomenon.

It’s a booming genre in the documentary world: films and docuseries that look back at huge pop culture moments from decades ago, to reveal the unexplored cost to those who are front and center (think recent documentaries about Britney Spears and Nickelodeon child stars). And it’s helpful to hear these artists, considered legends for so long, grappling with the very understandable feeling that they were being stereotyped just as their careers were taking off.

“Why did we take (the term Brat Pack) as an offense? » Moore said this seriously to McCarthy in an instant. “I felt like it was unfair. I just felt like it didn’t represent us… But I don’t know if I took it as personally as you did over time.

Shey, Pretty in pink Co-star Jon Cryer and others talk about seeing the excitement around these emerging stars suddenly turn into insulting assumptions that dismissed their talents. And one of the elements that fueled their success – appearing together as a gang of friends in films – suddenly disappeared, as they shunned all the stigma of the term.

But the other, perhaps unintended, effect of watching Kidsis a revelation of how the sometimes ignorant privilege these so-called Brat Packers enjoyed at the time remained, barely examined, decades later.

‘BRATS’ | Official trailer | June 13 on Hulu

Balancing Regret and Gratitude

It’s hard to make an impact in Hollywood. Acting in big films, even more so. But starring in massive films that are considered the voice of a generation? This is a unique opportunity.

But, instead of feeling gratitude for landing in the right place at the best time to land roles in films like Course, less than zero, weekend at Bernieand other hits, McCarthy seems to have spent far too much time wondering whether the Brat Pack label was preventing him from achieving greater fame or more serious work. And it seems no coincidence that the most successful Brat Packers McCarthy ever filmed – Moore and Lowe – have long made peace with a term that has evolved into a more endearing label, softened by nostalgia and filled with respect .

McCarthy asks a lot of good questions, including one that should be simple but really isn’t: Who is in the Brat Pack? Is it just the people Blum mentions in his story – notably Tom Cruise and Matt Dillon – or should it also include artists who worked with them around the same time, like Jon Cryer? (In Kids, Cryer flatly tells the camera, “I’m not part of the Brat Pack.” It’s hard to tell if he’s joking.)

This film also overcomes something that has always been a big sticking point for me when it comes to Brat Pack films: the glaring lack of racial and ethnic diversity.

McCarthy speaks to several fans, critics and experts on the Brat Pack phenomenon. But there is only one black person who speaks briefly and very soothingly about the lack of diversity in these films, before author Malcolm Gladwell – who is biracial – appears to assure the director that he made perfect sense that Hughes would center so many of his hit films. movies about angsty white kids in suburban Chicago.

For fans of color like me, the success of Brat Pack-style films has always had a double benefit. Many of the themes were universal, but there was an element of watching famous people in an environment light years away from my own experience.

Characters of color, when they surfaced, could be the butt of jokes. It would take the rise of black directors like Spike Lee, Matty Rich, and John Singleton to bring the Brat Pack youth revolution into black-centered stories in much smaller films.

In summary: the actors are considered part of Brat Park were packaged into big-budget films made by producers and directors seeking to tell certain stories and reach certain audiences. As several people tell McCarthy in the film, even after the article was published, many people thought the Brat Pack were still the cool kids of Hollywood — and wanted to be part of that club.

Many other talented artists were excluded from this process. And complaining about what you didn’t get – when you were given fame, wealth and career opportunities at an early age – seems a bit uncharitable, especially so many years later.

I’m interviewing the guy who started it all

But then McCarthy sits down with the author of the new York play, David Blum. And your sympathy for the actor and all other Brat Packers increases again.

That’s because Blum mostly refuses to admit that his article was intentionally negative or sought to bring down stars like Estevez and Lowe. He is proud of having coined the phrase, noting that perhaps he should have taken credit for creating the wave of publicity that helped make films like St. Elmo’s Fire a tube.

But Blum takes little responsibility for the impact the article’s negative tone may have had on his sources – or the implications of writing, without real warning, a story that seemed very different from the original feature film that he told Estevez he was putting together.

It’s obvious that the actors featured in Blum’s original play have mostly done well for themselves, creating careers that have surpassed the label he gave them. But even as he ends the interview, McCarthy can’t help but demand an apology – asking the writer, almost plaintively, “Do you think you could have been nicer?” »

Nearly 40 years later, it still seems difficult for McCarthy to admit that accepting the label and living well – both because of and in spite of it – is probably the best possible response. (He seems to handle all of this much better in a recent guest essay for The New York Times.)

It’s also clear that watching it inexorably led to this conclusion when making this film – a journey brimming with nostalgia, the power of pop culture and a bittersweet look back at youth – makes for a truly compelling documentary.

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