UK Release: 05/01/2018
Directed by: Mike White
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen
Ben Stiller having a midlife crisis.
That has to be funny, right? Well… sort of.
Brad’s Status is Ben Stiller’s latest comedy to hit the big screen courtesy of Amazon Studios. Written and directed by Mike White, it puts Stiller in an awkward position – a white, middle-aged man who doesn’t realise just how good his life really is. He’s obsessed with his old pals, stalking them on social media as he follows their every triumph – from book deals and celeb status to owning their own private jets.
By comparison, Brad Sloan (played by Stiller) lives a modest life. But does that really mean he should be feeling any less fulfilled? And does he really need to rate himself alongside his old pals?
It’s certainly a familiar premise – the self-pitying middle-aged white dude isn’t exactly unique to Brad’s Status. But despite his snivelling, cringeworthy wallowing, Stiller manages to make us care about Brad.
You see, the thing about Brad is that he’s a dreamer.
He’s always been a dreamer – whether a young, idealistic college student or the ageing non-profit director who wishes he’d sold out all those years ago. Good or bad, his head is always somewhere else… and one of the most visually pleasing running jokes is that we get to see his internal flights of fancy unfold on the screen before us.
Obviously, this sets up numerous comedy moments, as we witness Brad’s fantasy of running away to live on an island with two college girls, or even his rather more nefarious fantasy of his successful friends lives coming crashing down around them.
(Watching his one pal’s kids snorting cocaine in the private jet was a showstopper).
Unfortunately, these funny moments tend to barely raise a smile.
Worse yet, the comedy in Brad’s Status ranges from mildly-amusing to downright cringeworthy… and the majority of the film is spent waiting for Brad to embarrass himself once again. It’s obvious that this is intentional – we’re supposed to like Brad, but at the same time, dislike how he feels about his own life. About halfway through the movie, his son’s friend Ananya points out that his life is pretty good. He has a house, kids, food on the table and everything is pretty much alright. He isn’t struggling, at least, not financially… and he really doesn’t need anything more. But he’s never content. He only ever wants to live up to unrealistic expectations he’s put on himself as a result of having a group of ultra-successful friends. It’s the epitome of white privilege, and it’s certainly not lost on the characters, or the filmmakers.
I’m just not entirely sure it’s a good thing to base the entire film around this.
At least, not without plenty else going on to help us through.
Unfortunately, this is where Brad’s Status really falls down. There’s simply not enough going on, and the movie rarely feels like it’s going anywhere. Perhaps that’s the point – echoing the ongoing struggles of a man who feels his life has hit a plateau. But while that may be clever, it isn’t exactly enjoyable to watch.
The plot revolves around Brad taking a trip with his son, Troy (played by Austin Abrams) who is heading to Harvard with the prospect of going to study there. He has an interview for the course he wants to study, but there’s a problem – Troy messed up, and the interview was actually the day before they got there. Thankfully, Brad has his ultra-successful friends to turn to… and before we know it, he has sorted out his son’s dilemma while also being thrust head-first into humiliating exchanges with his former friends. Yes, we know Brad – they’re far more successful than you. But you really should get over it.
Surprisingly, Ben Stiller isn’t as bad as he sounds.
In fact, he manages to walk a fine line between annoying and endearing, with Brad’s mistakes always rectified with a heart-felt (and often cheesy as hell) resolution. It’s just a shame there isn’t a bit more conflict throughout the movie to help move things along.
The biggest criticism I have for Brad’s Status is that it’s just way too forgettable.
I spent the entire film wondering when it was going to get to the ‘good bit’… but it never came. There was no crashing conflict (whether internal or external) as these kinds of films often give us. Instead, the whole thing was an introspective character study of a man who wasn’t exactly hugely interesting from the start. And by the time you realise it isn’t really going anywhere, either, you’ll be wondering what the last hour and a half was all about.
That said, there are bits I liked.
I loved how Brad’s internal monologue was almost unilaterally at odds with what was actually happening. He’s not just an unreliable narrator, he’s a narrator who just can’t see what’s really going on around him. And despite there being no real laugh-out-loud moments, the mildly-amusing comedy was consistent and enjoyable throughout.
The trouble is, much like Brad himself, the movie is far too pedestrian.
It needed to take some risks, but much like Brad, just kept coming up short.
Brad’s Status stars Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, and Michael Sheen.
Mike White both wrote and directed the movie.
Brad’s Status opens in cinemas on 5 January 2018.