The life and accomplishments of A middle aged Father will force him to confront ‘Brad’s Status’. When Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) accompanies his college bound son to the East Coast, the visit triggers a crisis of confidence in Brad’s Status, writer and director Mike White’s bittersweet comedy. Brad has a satisfying career and a comfortable life in suburban Sacramento where he lives with his sweet-natured wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), and their musical prodigy son, Troy (Austin Abrams), but it’s not quite what he imagined during his college glory days. Showing Troy around Boston, where Brad went to university, he can’t help comparing his life with those of his four best college friends: a Hollywood bigshot (White), a hedge fund founder (Luke Wilson), a tech entrepreneur (Jemaine Clement), and a political pundit and bestselling author (Michael Sheen). As he imagines their wealthy, glamorous lives, he wonders if this is all he will ever amount to. But when circumstances force him to reconnect with his former friends, Brad begins to question whether he has really failed or is, in some ways at least, the most successful of them all. ‘Brad’s Status’ is written and directed by Mike White, and is rated R for adult language.
It has taken Ben Stiller some time and a very long distance to finding his proper footing, but ‘Brad’s Status’ feels like his return to form with a journey back to the top in a memorable role. That’s not to say that his work in recent films like ‘While We’re Young’ or ‘Zoolander 2’ didn’t peak my interest, but it’s clear that Stiller has a lot more to offer as an actor that being just a one-dimensional comic genius. As the title character here, Stiller feels most at home because he’s walking in the shoes of a man who feels like he is at a crossroads with life, wondering where it all went wrong. Call it a midlife crisis or whatever, but Brad’s questions seem to merit some discussion within his own psyche at picking apart the decisions that he made that may have caused such discontent. Stiller controls Brad with a childlike innocence that makes this character empathetic with our own opinions, even if his close-minded thinking hints at the life lessons that we already understand, making the audience feel light years ahead of its protagonist. It’s clear that no matter how old Brad is (47 in case you’re curious), he still has plenty of room to go, and the stuttering ramble of Stiller at its finest tuned in years, proves he’s back to compliment his dry humor with a dramatic pull that did have me fighting off a tear or two.
This is very much a film that people should flock to because it hammers home the life lessons of material versus physical, and the importance that we cast particularly upon one that doesn’t deserve it. With ‘Brad’s Status’, it sometimes feels like a lashing out against the upper one percent, and while that feels satisfyingly therapeutic, it shouldn’t be misinterpreted that Brad’s war comes within himself and the worst of times that this is taking place during his son’s college interview. Even if the material is predictable and had me feeling like I mapped out its general direction within the opening half hour of the film, I can’t say that I was never drawn to understanding the teachings that Brad was picking up on, something that I credit Mike White on dearly as a screenwriter that really gives his film a rich feel. In fact, one ironic delight is that it feels like the youth are the ones living with their eyes open in this one, and that being an adult can blind you to what is really there.
White should also be credited for commanding a two-part tone within the film that caters more to the underlying dramatic pulse and less to badly timed comedy that can come off in movies as heavily scripted. Here the humor does flow but it flows in a natural manner in which the true awkwardness of any and every situation bubbles its way to the top, tingling on the true complexity of Brad’s current situation. No, instead the movie presents itself in a way that should be taken seriously in all of hits social commentary on how the world distributes its wealth. Without getting overly preachy, White makes some valid strokes of genius in pointing out the very eye-rolling moments that come with fighting for a table at a fancy restaurant, or even the shady rules for coach flyers when purchasing air travel. It’s funny, yet painful because we have all been there at one time or another, and White’s stark surrealism contrasts a fine abstraction that will pull out either side of the emotional release; to either laugh or battle back tears from the painful rejection that society plays in its political card time and time again.
The runtime can sometimes feel like a point of contempt with me, although I don’t know if it will have the same negative condentation with people who take in White’s film. The material often stays firmly in the grip of his pen holder, choosing to take very little risks or unorthodox directions to play into Brad’s unwinding, and the actual ending feels like it takes place with about twenty minutes left in the film. The fortunate aspect is that the best scene of the movie takes place at the very end of it, sending the audience home satisfied by fighting off a tear or two that this scene cleverly earns. I just wish that some of the footwork to getting to that moment could’ve been left on the editing room floor, because it slowly omits the momentum of Brad’s triumphant moment when he puts it all together. Aside from this small critique, 97 minutes doesn’t do too much harm to the over presentation and pacing of ‘Brad’s Status’, and thankfully the delight of the supporting characters adds some much needed help to Stiller for being shouldered with the burden of carrying yet another picture.
Aside from Stiller’s delightful Brad, the film weaves a few impacting performances from some heavy-hitting A-listers, as well as one youth who really stole the show for me. On the latter, Austin Abrams is a breath of fresh air as Brad’s son Troy. On the surface, it feels like Troy might be the typical teenager who is embarrassed at the very sight of his parents, but it’s clear midway through the film that Brad and Troy share a bond that transcends their respective ages, and really hammer against the ideal that parents can’t be best friends with their children. At such a young age, he already has such a vibrant and choreographed view of the world that will make you wonder who is the parent here. Abrams witty and dry delivery does do battle with Stiller, in a kind of callback to Ben’s earlier years, carrying him as the perfect casting to play his son in the movie. I also greatly enjoyed the brief but blossoming work of Michael Sheen as Brad’s former best friend Craig, as well as Jermaine Clement who steals a scene as an island inhabitant with two wives. Clement’s Billy feels like Brad’s fantasy for everything he wants to be, but it all seems hilariously terrible to anyone who sees the bigger picture beyond what Brad conjures up in his mind. Sheen is again devilishly delightful as an analyst in Washington who grew a little too big for his one-time friendly britches. If you seek an asshole for a film, you go to the best, and Sheen is quickly making a name for himself as that condescending antagonist in films who you can’t help but grit your teeth at.
THE VERDICT – ‘Brad’s Status’ overcomes the midlife crisis tropes of familiarity with insightful observations and humorous commentaries towards the state of the material world and all of the things that Gordon Gecko fought so hard for. It is fairly predictable, and the third act could compact itself slightly more by trimming some time, so as not to lose so much of the impact from that gripping final exchange, but the work of Stiller and Abrams as a father/son duo prove to be the pivotal pieces in White’s unapologetic and thought-provoking diatribe about the value that we cast upon things that are out of our control.