Brad’s Status

Review by Phil Concannon @Phil_on_Film

Directed by

Mike White

Starring

Austin Abrams Ben Stiller Jenna Fischer

Anticipation.

A film about a privileged white man bemoaning his lot?

Enjoyment.

It’s consistently funny and perceptive, if painfully awkward.

In Retrospect.

Cheer up, Brad. You’re doing okay.

Ben Stiller playing another self-pitying white dude? Yes, but this is thought-provoking and rewarding comedy.

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) should be happy. He has a good job, a nice home, a loving wife and a son on the verge of going to Harvard. He is comfortable. So why does Brad’s Status open with its protagonist lying awake at night, consumed by a gnawing sense that his life has gone wrong somewhere along the road? Brad’s problem is envy, provoked and exacerbated by the fact that his contemporaries from college have all gone on to achieve ridiculous levels of wealth and fame, leaving him feeling like an outsider with his nose pressed up against the glass.

Much of Brad’s Status takes place during a trip to Boston, where Brad’s son Troy (Austin Abrams) has a couple of college interviews scheduled. While he is initially excited to have this precious time together with his offspring before he leaves the nest, his insecurities threaten to scupper everything. He can’t go five minutes without letting his mind wander into a fantasy of what his life might have been like. What if he hadn’t been so quick to settle? What if he had taken more chances? Couldn’t it have been Brad frolicking on the beach with two bikini-clad beauties whose combined ages don’t match his own? Or getting away from it all on his own private jet? What if… what if…

In many ways Brad’s Status is a more effective Walter Mitty movie than the overblown boondoggle Stiller directed in 2013, but writer/director Mike White is walking a far more difficult tightrope. By aligning us with Brad’s embittered point-of-view, he’s leaving himself open to accusations of indulging the whiny navel-gazing of a middle-aged white man, beset by first-world problems. Crucially, White does give us some alternative perspectives, primarily through the bewildered Troy – who fears his father is on the brink of a nervous breakdown – and Troy’s friend Ananya (the scene-stealing Shazi Raja), a talented student and musician who becomes the unfortunate recipient of Brad’s self-pitying spiel. “You’re 50 years old and you still think the world was made for you,” she marvels, puncturing his blinkered sense of entitlement. “Just don’t ask me to feel bad for you. You’re doing fine. Trust me. You have enough.”

Mike White isn’t interested in validating Brad or tearing him down; the film is simply about his gradual realisation that, yes, he does have enough, and the grass is not always greener on the other side. That other side is represented by a few choice cameos (a frazzled Luke Wilson and a wonderfully supercilious Michael Sheen), but Brad’s Status is Stiller’s movie, with the actor delivering one of his most impressive performances. Stiller has played many of these neurotic, man-on-the-edge roles over the years, but here it is augmented by a nuanced characterisation and a depth of emotion that is genuinely affecting; he even gives us a close-up reminiscent of Nicole Kidman in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth.

Whether audiences will still be invested in Brad’s journey when he has this moment of epiphany is an open question. He’s certainly not an easy guy to spend time with, and many of White’s perfectly pitched scenes of social embarrassment are agonising to watch. For those who stick with it, however, Brad’s Status is an unusually thought-provoking and rewarding comedy.

Published 3 Jan 2018

Tags: Ben Stiller Mike White

Anticipation.

A film about a privileged white man bemoaning his lot?

Enjoyment.

It’s consistently funny and perceptive, if painfully awkward.

In Retrospect.

Cheer up, Brad. You’re doing okay.

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