Sunday, 3 November 2019

Movie Review: Brad's Status (2017)


A middle age crisis drama, Brad's Status explores issues of deep seated insecurity through the story of a father accompanying his son on a trip to assess college options.

In Sacramento, Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is well into middle age, and sure that he has been an underachiever in life. He runs a small non-profit agency, is married to government worker Melanie (Jenna Fischer), and their son Troy (Austin Abrams) is a budding musician and about to graduate from high school.

But Brad constantly compares his relative lack of success to the perceived wealth, fame and happiness achieved by his college friends Craig (Michael Sheen), Jason (Luke Wilson) and Billy (Jermaine Clement). Craig worked at the White House and is now an in-demand best-selling author and television political pundit. Jason built enormous wealth running a hedge fund, and Billy retired early to a life of leisure in the Caribbean after selling his technology firm.

Brad accompanies Troy to Boston for a college tour, and learns that Troy has a realistic chance of being accepted to Harvard. His burst of pride is punctured when a date mix-up results in Troy missing his interview. Brad struggles to decide whether or not to call upon Craig to pull some strings and open the right doors for Troy, and as the trip progresses he reassesses his life and the complex relationship with his past friends.

Brad's Status is over-narrated and ploughs familiar terrain related to keeping up with the Joneses, the grass always appearing greener on the other side of the fence, and the creeping realization that life's back-half is a plateau if not a downward spiral of mediocrity. Yet in the hands of writer and director Mike White, the film is a worthwhile journey into the stressed mind of a father flirting with depression.

Brad has built up his college friends' lives into some sort of wart-free utopia, all of them successful beyond imagination, leaving him as the only group member wallowing in middle class oblivion. And now his perceived failure means he is no longer invited to their social gatherings, whereas in the past he was the glue holding the crew together. The film avoids hammering the role social media plays in inflating insecurities, but the message is unmistakable.

Brad enjoys the luxury of a stable marriage with the terrifically supportive Melanie, runs his own meaningful business promoting good causes, and his son is well adjusted and may be musically gifted enough to gain admission to a top college. Instead of celebrating his achievements Brad emotionally flounders by measuring his life short against others. White prominently exposes Brad's sour attitude and negative outlook as his biggest obstacle, and does not shy away from presenting immaturity and self-directed degradation as harmful fuel for angst.

Within the prevailing sense of emotional gloom the trip to Boston serves to build a bond between father and son. Brad has clearly neglected to care much about Troy's progress, and in his eagerness to catch up he defaults to many ill-advised moves, often saying and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Troy remains impressively patient, poking back at his dad when needed but generally helping his father awaken to the world of young adults by being true to himself, a trait obviously inherited from his well-grounded mother.

The trip also provides unexpected opportunities for Brad to get back in touch with his college buddies, especially celebrity author Craig. A closer look at his friends' lives reveals all is not what it seems, and again White makes Brad real: knowingly or not he holds on tight to his resentment, botching more than one opportunity to rebuild meaningful connections.

Ben Stiller is in his comfort zone portraying an average man wrestling with restlessness, and Austin Abrams is equally impressive as a son refreshingly free of irony fluttering his way out of the nest.

Brad's Status is middling. He has more than he knows, but knowing is a big part of thriving.






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