Brad’s Status is a comedic drama about Brad Sloane (Ben Stiller), a forty-seven year old man on a trip with his seventeen year old son to check out some colleges. This causes Brad to look back on the path his life has taken since his own college years. All his former college friends are now rich and he feels like a failure in comparison. Most of the film is him stressing himself out (which is heard via narration) and then taking it out on those around him.
Ben Stiller can be a likable screen presence. In his best films he has a down-to-Earth charm that makes his characters sympathetic even under the craziest of circumstances. In Brad’s Status, his character is having a relatively relatable midlife crisis. However, Brad comes off as so self-centered and materialistic that he became impossible for me to relate to. I kept waiting for the moment when he realizes what an idiot he’s being, but it never really comes. There are a series of scenes right at the end of the film that are probably intended to be his big realization, but they do not come off that way. He doesn’t have much of a character arc. It still felt like one little thing would set him off all over again. Stiller plays the role as well as he could, but the screenplay (written by Mike White, who also directed and appears in a small role) makes him a hard character to root for.
It is a challenge to spend 95 minutes (not including the end credits) with Brad without losing your patience. I lost that challenge about halfway through the movie. The film is kept afloat by the supporting cast.
Jenna Fischer (Pam from the US version of The Office) is only in a few scenes as Brad’s wife, Melanie, but she does a good job trying to ground her anxious husband. Brad’s son, Troy, is the second most important character in the film. Though he is essentially used as a mirror for Brad to look back at his own life, Austin Abrams (who was in a couple seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead) is likable as a kid on the brink of adulthood who loves his Dad while also being exasperated by him. Shazi Raja, as Troy’s idealistic friend Ananya, brings some life to the middle section of the film as a friend of Troy’s who Brad sees a lot of himself in. Their scenes together are the closest Brad gets to being more self-reflective than self-pitying.
Brad’s old school friends are an eclectic bunch played by a group of talented actors. Unfortunately, only one of them gets more than one scene, but they all bring a welcome change from our whiny protagonist.
There is Craig (Michael Sheen, Reese Witherspoon’s estranged husband in this month’s Home Again), a former White House staffer, Billy (Jemaine Clement, best known for his musical/comedy duo (and HBO series) Flight of the Conchords), who sold his company and lives in Hawaii, Jason (Luke Wilson), who runs a hedge fund, and Nick (Mike White), a successful film director. Nick is only seen in flashbacks (or fantasy sequences) and Billy and Michael each get one scene (phone calls with Brad) designed to spin Brad into a new obsession. Sheen gets one more scene. Since the success of these men is what causes Brad to question his own life, it would have been nice to actually learn who they really are. Instead, all we get is Brad’s envious fantasies.
I will admit that I am a sucker for films about an older person on a college campus learning life lessons from a college student while looking back on their own choices (films like 2000’s Wonder Boys or 2012 Liberal Arts come to mind). This movie would seem to be right down my alley. There were certainly things that I enjoyed, but Brad kept dragging everything down. I just did not like him. His selfishness and ignorance about the effect he has on the people around him could have been meaningful if anything was done with it. Instead, it was just annoying.
3 out of 5
Ben Stiller as Brad Sloan
Austin Abrams as Troy Sloan
Jenna Fischer as Melanie Sloan
Michael Sheen as Craig Fisher
Jemaine Clement as Billy Wearslter
Luke Wilson as Jason Hatfield
Mike White as Nick Pascale
Shazi Raja as Ananya
Luisa Lee as Maya
Written and Directed by Mike White