Film Review – Brad’s Status
Brad’s Status comes along when you remember you have not seen a Ben Stiller film in some time. Zoolander 2 need not apply. The last quintessential Ben Stiller film is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and that one did not quite turn out as good as it should have. Brad’s Status has Stiller step back from behind-the-camera and fully commit to his character on screen.
Contrary to the modern definition of “status,” Brad’s Status has nothing to do with social media, but with the older definition, “the relative social, professional, or other standing of someone or something” (Google Dictionary). Brad (Ben Stiller) is tasked with taking his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), on his first college tour of the northeast. Before this, Brad has already begun to dwell on his standing in life, like how much money they make and in what kind of house they live. Leaving his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), behind for this trip, lets the two men of the house bond. Reflecting on his own college life and friends, Brad starkly realizes that he does not measure up to any of them. They are all rich and successful in their own right. Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen) is a White House political pundit, author, and frequently appears on TV. Billy Wearslter (Jermaine Clement) has already retired to Hawaii with two girlfriends. Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson) owns a hedge fund and makes tons of money, and Nick Pascale (Mike White) is a successful Hollywood director. These are the guys that Brad compares himself to in life. The one bright light is realizing his child is a musical genius of sorts and could pick any college to attend. It is when Troy screws up his Harvard interview that Brad must rely on others to make his kid’s dream come true.
Written and directed by Mike White, the film relies heavily on the voiceover or narration by Brad to understand what is going on in his head. If this film did not have this narration, there would not be enough dialogue to fill the scenes, just a lot of Brad staring at whatever while you contemplate what he is thinking. Given the alternative, the narration is pleasant, infuriating, comical, or informative depending on the scene. Brad is the main character, and his narration or running thoughts is another character of its own. If you scoff at overused narration to guide a story or scenes of long, pensive walks and ruminations, this film is not for you.
This film is a mid-life crisis film as Brad is approaching 50. Instead of buying a nice car or getting rid of the greys, we have a guy who has realized the world is no longer his oyster. His life has hit its climax, and it is now his son’s turn to take on the world. He then has delusions of grandeur about his son, believing he will be the one that heightens his status. The further focus on the successes of his college friends only depresses him more. Granted Brad has not spoken to any of them in some years, but he still holds their status and what they think about him in high regard. The biggest trigger during the film is learning he was the only one not invited to Nick’s wedding and is suddenly worried what was said about him and why he was never invited.
Much of the film is just Ben Stiller onscreen along with equal screen time of Austin Abrams. Their performances played off each other; the father-son bond is clear, but the relationship is strange. As anyone has experienced, the relationship between parent and child reaches an awkward stage when the kid is becoming an adult and finding his or her way. Stiller and Abrams illustrated this stage perfectly along small glimpses of what the relationship between the characters used to be. Brad is along for the ride but did not fully appreciate the kind of adult Troy had become until this college trip.
Brad’s Status is filled with what-ifs when the focus for Brad should be on what he already has. Like anyone evaluating their life and the turns it took, Brad ignores the successes right in front of him. They may not be money or the cute, young girlfriend, but he is rich in other areas. It can’t be a Stiller film without some secondhand embarrassment for the audience, and he does deliver. The score emphasizes these quirky and comical scenes, and it becomes a theme of when Brad is pondering his perceived failures in life. It may be a little heavy-handed with the overall message or theme, but the film is quite enjoyable, and a pleasant departure from other films released this year.