MOVIE REVIEW: Brad's Status
BRAD’S STATUS-- 2 STARS
For better or worse, Brad’s Status, speaks from a very insulated and ostentatious point of view, that of the taboo term of “white privilege.” Even dramatized for soft realistic fiction, Mike White’s feature directorial debut tries to be a wakeup call of sorts. The dramedy carries a message, a fair and good one mind you, but one that will, unfortunately, fall on multiple deaf ears.
LESSON #1: BEING AN ALIVE, ACTIVE, AND LOVING PARENT IS SUCCESS ENOUGH IN LIFE-- The “money doesn’t buy you happiness” bell rings for 101 obvious minutes for all to hear except our main character. That axiom is always a sound takeaway and reflection point, but depending on the demographic, a viewer will either not need the message because they know it already as a humble person, not want it because they look down on those less than them anyway, or, finally, not care or be too oblivious in their taboo term to know they really need the improved principle.
Essentially, Brad’s Status is a weekend-long midlife crisis of a 2%-er who wishes he was a 1%-er. That’s “tough sell” with one “ugh.” Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) lives comfortably in Sacramento with his college sweetheart wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and works as an exec for nonprofit tech company supporting other fledgling nonprofits. They have raised an eclectic musically-inclined son named Troy (Austin Abrams from TV’s The Walking Dead) who has his choice of Ivy League schools out east. Gosh, we should only be so lucky.
Obvious career and familial success aside, Brad, in his quiet moments, feels like a failure who settled low and wasted his life when he compares himself with the tight-knit group of college buddies that he has lost touch with. Luke Wilson’s Jason Hatfield is a jet-set hedge fund investor, Mike White’s Nick Pascale is a successful Hollywood film director, Jemaine Clement’s Billy Wearsiter is a retired tech mogul living in Hawaii, and Michael Sheen’s Craig Fisher is a best-selling political author and celebrated TV pundit (all are little more than glorified cameos). Brad’s selfish envy causes him to press Troy towards shallow success he didn’t have while the duo takes a guy’s trip to visit Boston and Harvard. Gosh, we should only be so lucky.
Despite its air, what White’s film absolutely nails in a completely impressive and engaging way is the internal monologue of the Brad character. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh’s flighty violin-and-flute score compositions dance us through the frazzled crossroads of feelings are very real for aging fathers. Ben Stiller’s portrayal of those prideful highs and jerkish lows is outstanding, squeezing out plenty of “daddy feels.”
LESSON #2: YOU NEVER STOP WORRYING AS A PARENT-- The woulda-coulda-shouldas as a parent are infinite. The crazy thing is that the second guessing and doubt spreads over to how your own life has turned out, not just the one you have fostered for your children. That’s a heavy double whammy of confidence-destroying worry that doesn’t go away.
Stiller’s voiceovers, daydreams, and matching facial and physical mannerisms during those scattered inner thoughts of conscience typify all of the anxiety, candor, and pride of a man, father, and archetype such as Brad. Stiller, playing truer to his gray-templed age of 51 than we normally see, makes the pretentiousness and preposterousness convincing, humorous, and palpable in arguably his most nuanced and restrained performance to date. Stiller fans used to White Goodman and Tugg Speedman can call Brad’s Status a revelation.
For the statistical section of the audience that can empathize with this particular father’s pendulum of doubts, Brad’s Status will be a meaningful experience, one fully granted to them. The trouble remains that aforementioned taboo umbrella that shields true adversity of any kind to derail these characters and their narrative. Despite pointed monologues of flexible frankness, the social commentary and the film itself is overly safe and excessively convenient.
LESSON #3: GOSH, WE SHOULD BE SO LUCKY-- This had to be the lesson to circle back for the finish. To pile on from Lesson #1, if the most difficult parental decisions you have are paying for business class on a flight and what Ivy League school your non-therapist-seeing well-rounded child will attend, you don’t know real hardship. You’re doing fine and you should feel fortunate. To not think so is kind of insulting. The film’s final hollow miss is the source of the light bulb moment of comeuppance for Brad. We are far from George Bailey here and it shows.