Brad's Status (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Writer/director Mike White crafts a probing, honest, and uncomfortable look at how middle-age can reduce even the most proud of individuals into people unsure and uneasy about the second half of their lives.
Ben Stiller delivers a terrific performance in the lead role, with newcomer Austin Abrams amplifying a believable father/son dynamic for much of the film.
For anyone who has sent a child away to college, Brad's Status hits a lot of emotional beats and pounds them well.
With Stiller's character using narration for a large portion of the film, Brad's Status could potentially grate on one's nerves.
Overall, the movie uses Brad's insight as a diversion of sorts from a predictable plot that wraps up almost exactly as you could have predicted.
Some have recoiled from the film and feel it is told from a narcissist's viewpoint, and deals with first world problems in an annoying and privileged way. Not my take, but the sentiment exists in some circles regarding the film.
Though he is perhaps best known for writing and co-starring in 2003's School Of Rock, and the stellar HBO television series "Enlightened", writer/director Mike White is a prolific storyteller who often builds his stories in worlds where individuals find themselves perpetually uncomfortable, uneasy, and unsure of how to be.
With his latest effort, Brad's Status, White turns to Ben Stiller, starring as Brad Sloan, struggling to bring himself to accept the fact that his only child, Troy (Austin Abrams), is not only graduating from high school soon but is ready to embark on a college tour from Sacramento to Boston.
Much of what Stiller's Brad is thinking provides the framework with which White hangs a series of conversations, interactions, and explorations on. And Stiller's temperament is apparent in the movie's opening minutes when wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) endures a couple of his panic attacks and prepares her husband for a trip she cannot go on, because of work commitments.
Brad steps away from his non-profit work for a bit and ruminates on his one employee who just left for a new job, and ponders the status of his best friends from college, now scattered all around the country. Through the prism of believing everyone has a better life than he does, we see montages of Jason (Luke Wilson), a hedge fund manager with a private plane, wife and four kids, and Billy (Jemaine Clement), a retiree at 40 who lives on the beach in Maui and shares his home with two 20-something bikini-clad women. Nick (White), a film director, just married his boyfriend in a lavish Malibu wedding, and Craig (Michael Sheen), is a best-selling author, Harvard guest lecturer, and political pundit on cable news.
Though Brad is reminded by Melanie that they have a good life, he cannot shake the sense of inadequacy, even as his musical prodigy son could be "Harvard material." The trip to Boston and Cambridge starts off well enough, but a mistake at Harvard leads to Brad becoming obsessed with fixing a problem that Troy doesn't see as all that big of a deal. This leads Brad to having to connect with his old friends to get a phone number for Charlie, who snubbed him years prior and left Brad embarrassed and hurt.
To some, this movie will read and sound insufferable. If you find Brad's inner monologue annoying, or cannot connect with the structure of the film, your patience will be worn thin very quickly. In most films, narration becomes a crutch - a lazy, simplistic way of advancing plot and story with just someone spoon feeding you everything you need to know.
Brad's Status, and the reliance on Brad's thoughts, eventually wore me down and won me over. In a weird kind of way, Brad's inner voice becomes a separate and complementary character, a different perspective of sorts with regard to the film's themes of loneliness, growing old, and feeling lost all over again.
White tacks on a subplot that works almost in spite of itself, when Troy meets up with his high school friend Ananya (Shazi Raja), a third-year music student at Harvard. They agree to meet for dinner and Brad is struck by how smart and confident she is. The trio is then joined by her friend Maya (Luisa Lee), and we are soon back into Brad's head, reminiscing about how much he loved college and those last youthful hopes that life is ours for the taking.
Stiller gives a great performance, reminding us that he can play self-loathing, kind, and well-meaning characters as well as anyone. He builds great chemistry with Abrams, creating a Troy who says a lot with looks and observations, than actual words. Raja steals the movie in her scenes, delivering a powerful rebuke of Brad's boozy complaints about how hard his life happens to be.
Part of what makes Brad's Status such a curious affair is that there's a feeling of honesty about it that makes the contrived introduction of a couple of minor characters, and the continual narration track, somehow palatable in a context that would otherwise be hard to sit through.
Beautiful shots of Cambridge add authenticity, and a wonderful score from Mark Mothersbaugh amplifies the tone and feel.
And whether Brad is inaccurate in judging the lives of his former friends, or dwelling in pessimistic what-might-have-beens, when his son offers an unsolicited "I love you Dad", Brad's blurred vision of his world clears and he, and we, are reminded that our "status" in life is often defined by how those closest to us respond to our very best of intentions.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Shazi Raja, Luisa Lee, Mike White.
Director: Mike White
Written by: Mike White
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Annapurna Pictures/Amazon Studios