Director: Mike White
Screenplay: Mike White
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement
Runtime: 101 Minutes
Brad’s Status is a film that isn’t going to work with many people, or at least isn’t going to operate on the level intended with generations of the internet age in which the whims and desires of middle aged/ middle-class white men are of increasingly little focus in the ongoing march for equality of marginalised minorities in American society.
After he sees that several of his school friends have become, unlike himself, famous and wealthy, Brad (Ben Stiller) re-evaluates his own life choices, while taking his teenage son Troy (Austin Abrams) to visit colleges on the East Coast.
The tolerance for the film will entirely rely on how you take to Brad as a character as he goes through this small personal passage of re-evaluation, as well as his ongoing self-serving monologues in order to back up his broken little worldview. He sees himself as the underdog of society and feels he is owed something, even though his position as a white suburbanite in a stable job with a decent standard of living would seem to many other people an embarrassment of riches.
The film drifts in and out of fantasy sequences as he imagines scenarios of his friends’ wealthy and carefree lives that might not even be accurate and his worrying position on Troy that comes into play halfway through. Although he goes above and beyond for the betterment of his son, he also fears of his son's possible achievements eclipsing his own and his jealousy growing from unknown successes. This is a dark place to go but seems tame when compared to his silent hoping for his or his wife’s (Jenna Fischer) wealthier parents to die so that they might inherit money.
Things come to a head when he spends a drunken evening droning on to and visibly boring a young college girl in a bar, who humours him initially but then silently listens to is pathetic story and complaints as he talks about his former aspirations and idealism he sees in the youth of today. Only for her to deliver a crushing blow to his self-esteem as she basically tells him to get over himself and that he has it alright compared to most.
But the film keeps going as he talks with and meets his former friends (from the likes of Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen and Jemaine Clement) who differ in his vision although not always for the best in different, equally out of touch ways.
If the film is solid evidence of anything it’s that Ben Stiller is best utilised outside of straight comedy roles, and more in the fields of dramady where his sad sack routine is better suited to his demeanour and line delivery. Stiller has carved a niche for himself in his later career for playing this kind of midlife crisis individual very well and he’s really on form in this.
It’s white fantasy wish fulfilment and aggressively unlikable at points, although that’s possibly by the intent of writer/director Mike White even if it gets muddled in what it’s trying to say about its subject. Brad’s Status is nowhere near as introspective or interestingly constructed as Stiller’s work with Noah Baumbach on the likes of While We're Young or The Meyerowitz Stories, but his performance is strong enough at points to pull it around, as is his chemistry with Abrams.