Monday, September 25, 2017
Brad's Status (2017) * * *
Directed by: Mike White
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Mike White, Jemaine Clement, Shazi Raja
Brad's Status is a study about some of the most irrational and irritating aspects of human nature. From an outsider's perspective, Brad Sloan (Stiller) has a lot to be thankful for, including a nice home, a loving wife, and a son who may be able to get into Harvard, or at the very least Tufts. But for Brad, this is not enough. He feels as if he has not accomplished anything, especially when he compares himself to his college buddies, all of whom have more money and prestige than Brad. Most people would envy Brad, but Brad spends a great deal of the movie envying his friends from afar.
Brad's angst is so profound he asks his wife (Fischer) how much money they stand to inherit should her parents keel over. She is reasonably perturbed at the question, but has to get up for work in the morning so Brad should try and get some sleep. The bulk of Brad's Status occurs when Brad accompanies his 17-year-old son Troy (Abrams) to interviews at Harvard and Tufts. Troy is a quiet kid with a love for music, someone Brad is proud of, but also lives vicariously through. He has fantasies of his son's future success, but mostly because it will give him ammunition against his irrational feelings of worthlessness. He says to others, "My son is interviewing at Harvard," as a way of saying, "See, I've done something worthwhile, too," Brad's tales of woe floor others, who think as we do that Brad has a life many others wish they had.
The movie isn't about what Brad has, but what he feels he doesn't. His images of the lives of his college friends: a famed political mind who appears on TV often (Sheen), a movie director (White), a billionaire with his own private jet (Wilson), and a dot.com founder who sold his business and is retired and living in Hawaii with two gorgeous women (Clement), are not based in reality, but idealism. He sees them as he wants to because it fuels his envy. Never mind the fact that the politico is a condescending creep, the billionaire is facing criminal charges and may lose his company, and the dot.com founder has drug issues; Brad sees their wealth and power as the way to keep score and he is losing the game.
The typical Ben Stiller comic performance is that of a guy spending the majority of the movie in a slow burn until he explodes. Stiller here is more subdued as he seethes and the release doesn't come in the form of a meltdown, but in a moment of clarity and understanding. He thinks he is helping his son (and himself) when something goes wrong at Harvard and he pulls a few strings to make it right, but Troy subtly explains his embarrassment. The very fact that Troy is so mature and well-adjusted should be all of the accomplishment Brad needs, but of course he doesn't see it, much to other's (and our) befuddlement.
Brad's Status more or less unfolds predictably, but the satisfaction comes with the journey, not the destination. It is similar to movies like 10 (1979), which starred Dudley Moore as a guy with a mid-life crisis who chases an unattainable woman. He thinks if he lands the woman his life would suddenly be happy again, but he is ultimately disappointed when he meets the woman and realizes she isn't as perfect as he idealized. In Brad's Status, Brad doesn't pursue a woman, but something equally unattainable for him, which is wealth and power. He feels a certain degree of power by being able to pull strings to help his son out, but is he doing it for his son or himself? By the end, Brad is able to answer that question. What is frustrating to everyone else is the fact that he is even confounded by such questions.