5 best showbiz documentaries like 'Brats' to stream

Brats poster
(Image credit: ABC News Studios)

Andrew McCarthy’s Hulu original documentary “Brats” is part showbiz retrospective, part personal journey. McCarthy, one of the rising young movie stars of the 1980s, explores the implications of the “Brat Pack” label that was applied to himself and other famous actors in their 20s, following an article in New York Magazine.

Where to stream "Brats"

"Brats" is streaming on Hulu

For McCarthy, that label carried only negative connotations that derailed his career, although many of the peers that he interviews (including Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez) have more balanced perspectives.

“Brats” is a fascinatingly messy piece of individual expression, which places it in good company among other autobiographical documentaries. Here are five more intimate, revealing showbiz documentaries about the intersection of moviemaking and emotional turmoil to check out after watching “Brats.”

'Kid 90'

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Like “Brats,” Soleil Moon Frye’s “Kid 90” is a bittersweet documentary about a supposed heyday for young actors, made by someone who was right in the middle of it. Frye, who played the title character in the sitcom “Punky Brewster,” looks back at the 1990s era of teen stars, including some who died way too young. The difference between Frye and McCarthy is that Frye experienced much more serious pain and loss during her rise to fame, and she processed it much more effectively.

Frye is also able to draw on raw home video footage from the time period, thanks to the increased availability of consumer video cameras and her penchant for recording her friends and colleagues. The result is just as emotionally vulnerable as “Brats,” but with more honest introspection and hard-won maturity.

Watch on Hulu

'Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie'

STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie — Official Trailer | Apple TV+ - YouTube STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie — Official Trailer | Apple TV+ - YouTube
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Fox shows up briefly in film snippets in “Brats,” as what his “Back to the Future” co-star Lea Thompson calls “Brat Pack-adjacent" — a young star during the 1980s who escaped the Brat Pack label. He faced more serious struggles after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991, and director Davis Guggenheim’s documentary is a clear-eyed look at his personal and professional lives, which are inextricably intertwined.

To illustrate just how connected they are, Guggenheim ingeniously weaves in clips of Fox’s acting work as part of the narrative of his life, seamlessly combining interviews, re-enactments, and scenes from Fox’s films and TV shows. It’s a powerful way to portray how central acting has always been for Fox, and how his personal challenges fed back into his performances. That makes “Still” far more affecting than the typical authorized celebrity bio-doc.

Watch on Apple TV Plus

'Shirkers'

Shirkers | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube Shirkers | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube
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The movie that Sandi Tan worked on as a teenager didn’t have the reach of any Brat Pack films, in part because it was hijacked by her supposed mentor and never finished. Decades later, Tan turned the search for that missing film into a haunting personal odyssey, a memoir about her years growing up in Singapore and her early artistic ambitions. Tan and her friends set out in 1992 to make a road movie called “Shirkers,” aided by an American film professor.

Instead of facilitating the vision of his students, that professor held the footage hostage, and Tan is finally able to access it after his death, reconstructing some scenes from the lost film as part of a documentary about its production. While the original movie no longer exists, it inspires a new, more fully realized movie in its place.

Watch on Netflix

'Best Worst Movie'

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Being labeled part of the Brat Pack is nothing compared to being in a movie that’s labeled the “worst film of all time,” which is what Michael Stephenson and his “Troll 2” co-stars had to deal with. In his documentary “Best Worst Movie,” Stephenson turns that epithet into a badge of honor, as he and his fellow actors embrace the fan following for their disastrous low-budget horror movie.

Stephenson, who starred in “Troll 2” as a child, steps behind the camera to explore the film’s cult status and the varied reactions of the people involved. It’s clear that the best response is to take the whole thing in stride, and the ultimate message of “Best Worst Movie” is to celebrate entertainment and artistic connection in whatever form it arrives, however unexpected.

Watch on Prime Video

'Dick Johnson Is Dead'

Dick Johnson Is Dead | Official Trailer | Netflix - YouTube Dick Johnson Is Dead | Official Trailer | Netflix - YouTube
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“Brats” joins a strong tradition of cinema as therapy, and filmmaker Kirsten Johnson’s documentary about her father’s inevitable death is one of the most striking examples. As a way of processing the impending loss of her 86-year-old dad, Johnson stages various cinematic death scenes with him at the center, a willing and eager participant in depictions of his own demise.

It may seem somewhat morbid, but Johnson uses dark humor both to bond with her father and to convey her own complicated feelings about death and grieving. The film is a time capsule that will live on after Dick Johnson’s death, as well as an experience that gives his family the chance to pay tribute to him while he’s still around.

Watch on Netflix

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Josh Bell
Writer

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.