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“Brats” reviewed

A thread of vulnerability weaves through “Brats,” the actor-director Andrew McCarthy’s new documentary. In it, McCarthy, the star of ’80s hits like “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Pretty in Pink,” tries to make peace with having been branded a member of the “Brat Pack” by the press.

In 1985, New York Magazine christened a collection of young actors with that sticky sobriquet — itself a wink to the midcentury Rat Pack. The quasi-gonzo cover story by David Blum (who makes an appearance in the film) ran right before “St. Elmo’s Fire” opened and a few months after “The Breakfast Club” hit multiplexes. Hollywood’s youth quake was on. But not everyone reaped the benefits.

Early in the film, McCarthy says that the article “affected my life massively.” Over the next four decades, his filmography wasn’t what he’d hoped for. Testing a theory that his fellow Brat Pack actors may have felt similarly pigeonholed, he phones Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and others, whom he hasn’t spoken to in decades.

McCarthy interviews them in person, sitting (or in the case of Estevez, standing) in what starts to resemble a therapy session. Often, McCarthy appears to be the only one who is still working through the trauma of instant, if fragile, icon status.

The film’s through-line of woundedness is by turns touching, irritating and occasionally illuminating: A visit to the writer Malcolm Gladwell is insightful; watching Dick Cavett and Phil Donahue fawn offers a cringey lesson in how easy it is to rev the star-stoking machinery.

And about that 1985 article: It doesn’t actually mention McCarthy much. Though one of his co-stars had this to say about him: “He plays all his roles with too much of the same intensity. I don’t think he’ll make it.” If McCarthy’s ire with the Brat Pack moniker begins to feel psychologically displaced, might this be the reason?