Courtesy of Amazon Studios
In “Brad’s Status,” Ben Stiller and company provide the gas for a potentially important story, while the writing falls flat. The message is simple and exceedingly relatable: How many times a day do we recede into ourselves only to find we’re playing the comparison game? Wondering “what could’ve been” all over a perfectly good life? Resenting old friends’ successes and envying the opportunistic nature of youth. The only issue here is how difficult it is to continue empathizing with this guy.
“Brad’s Status” centers on 47 year-old non-profit owner/family man Brad Sloan (Stiller in perfect-form as the overly-internalized face of white male anxiety) in the midst of what appears to be quite the tumultuous midlife crisis. All of Brad’s old college friends are doing incredible, powerful-people, highly monetized stuff as he carries on with his acceptable non-profit organization. His wife Melanie is a passionately idealistic government-worker and content with so little in his eyes - played impeccably by the long-lost Jenna Fischer of tv acclaim (“The Office’s” Pam Beesly). While his “musical prodigy” son Troy (relative new-comer Austin Abrams giving a measuredly authentic portrayal as a kid with lofty goals) is in a heap of his own high-pressure life choices as he prepares to interview for top-tier and Ivy League schools. Throw in a few old college friend cameos (vets including: Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, and writer and director Mike White himself) in his life and Brad’s ready to live, or rather, escape vicariously through his son’s seemingly endless potential.
The acting is the driving force in this piece, as all of the cast – led fantastically by Stiller - emulate upper-middle class/1%-er life-style and characteristics to a tee. The only problem here is there’s only so much of this laundry list of “white people problems” one can handle in this day and age. Throughout the movie it seems Brad is on a never-ending quest to find out where his youthful profound purpose went while HE wasn’t acquiring abundant wealth in his life like his friends, meanwhile the audience is left to deal with this privileged man whining for two hours. Brief scene-stealing moments from Sheen, Clement, and Wilson offer some kind of reprieve but do sort of leave you wondering why they weren’t maybe incorporated further?
“Brad’s Status” should be given a chance though, as its direction and fine cast somewhat successfully does its best to compensate for any and all writing shortcomings. Director, writer and actor Mike White (the mind behind well-known cult-hits like “School of Rock,” “Orange County,” and “The Good Girl”) is at his A-game at the helm of this piece, but perhaps could’ve used a better editor or co-writer. While he does put the melodramatic plight of Brad into perspective with a brilliantlyunderutilized character near the end of the second act - look for more from Shazi Ranya, as the bold yet passionately “woke” Harvard college student, Ananya - there’s still more left to be desired from the relentlessness of the overall style provided by the script. An abrupt ending leaving much to the imagination is one of the best employed tropes here by White as he trusts his audience to accept the blanks and fill them in if need be. Unremarkable? Perhaps. However, with today’s oversaturated and, at times, painfully genre-specific film culture it’s a nice change of pace to follow White, Stiller and friends into less familiar territory. Even if it has its glaring warts, “Brad’s Status” is nevertheless an above-average worthwhile endeavor. B
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matthew Porter is a guest columnist and film critic for TheOnlyCritic.com. He will be bringing forth some new perspective and reviewing various films occasionally. You can follow him on Twitter (@Mattttttttthew)