Film Review: There’s Little To Root For In ‘Brad’s Status’


What’s it like to compare your life to your friends? In the age of social media, we constantly do this. In many ways, we use others as benchmarks for our own lives and success. Yet, does this truly make us happy? Why must people base their happiness on being better than others they admire? Writer/director Mike White’s new film, “Brad’s Status” seeks to explore this. However, there’s little compelling about the drama in regards to “Brad’s Status.” For a character whose job involves working with non-profit organizations, Brad appears to not have any concept of how minor and inconsequential his problems are.

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) feels dissatisfied with what his life has become. Working at a non-profit, Brad envies the success of his fellow college friends. Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen) commands an empire as a former Press Secretary turned correspondent personality. Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson) runs a successful hedge fund, which helps fund an Instagram filled with adventures. Billy Wearslter (Jemaine Clement) sold his tech company in order to retire on the beaches of Hawaii. Lastly, Nick Pascale (Mike White), a movie director, lives the high life in Los Angeles, recently marrying his partner. Brad’s obsession with comparing his life comes as he travels to Boston with his prodigy son, Troy (Austin Abrams), to tour colleges. Brad examines his life and the choices he made that led him to a life he feels is so average.

Ben Stiller is so frustratingly skilled at this role. He conveys Brad’s inner turmoil with such specificity and understanding. The problem is not with the delivery, but the turmoil itself. Brad lives a comfortable life in Sacramento with a wife that loves him, Melanie (played by the wonderful Jenna Fischer). However, his warped, dissatisfied mind even begins to blame Melanie for his seemingly average life. Her passion for issues and content nature are seen as negatives, as he desires more wealth and monetary gain. He wallows and thinks constantly about the opulence of his friends’ lives. There’s a bit of insight here about how there’s a disparity between how friends present their lives and how their lives actually are. Yet, it’s all so ham-fisted and blunt. On top of that, it isn’t exactly a fresh insight.

Stiller isn’t the only strong performer in the cast. The heart of the film that keeps it moving is Abrams’ performance as Troy. He’s a talented pianist who feels confident enough in his chances to get into Harvard. However, he lacks certain bits of polish. He forgets appointments and seems flustered and nervous about big meetings. Yet, what he lacks in details, he makes up for in maturity. After a meeting with a senior professor at Harvard, he expresses his disappointment that the conversation was so one-sided, with the professor bragging and seeking approval the whole time. There’s something earnest and lived in about Abrams’ approach to the character. He feels authentic and displays a good heart, without being cloying or pretentious. Hopefully, Abrams will receive more roles in the near future.

Writer/director Mike White’s script knows Brad’s plight is slight in the grand scheme of things. The best part of the film involves Troy’s college friend Ananya (Shazi Raja) listening to Brad’s dilemma. She chides him for his concentration on the small first world problems in his life. “You’re fifty years old and you still think the world belongs to you,” she says. The movie comes alive to shout at the protagonist what we the audience have shouted for the past hour. Our current film culture is littered with movies about well-off middle-aged men going through a midlife crisis because they aren’t part of the 1% of the 1%. Even worse, Brad oftentimes fantasizes of living a playboy life with this Harvard student. His realization comes not just by listening to this girl but sexualizing her in his fantasy.

The film bears some similarities towards Mike White’s other script this year. No, not “The Emoji Movie” (the less said there the better). “Beatriz at Dinner” also explores the cracks within the typical upper-class white narrative and conflicts. However, while that film looked at the topics through the eyes of a Latina healer, this puts us squarely in the mind of the petulant middle aged white male. We’ve seen that many times before, and done in a more interesting nature. For as much as Brad needs to realize he has all he needs, the film also wants us to identify with his dissatisfaction. However, like Ananya, it’s all too easy to see the conflict as just first world problems blown out of proportion. 

“Brad’s Status” is distributed by Amazon Studios and is currently in limited release. The film expands on Friday, September 22nd.

GRADE: (★★)

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