Brad’s Status | Mike White | September 15, 2017
Is it fair to label Ben Stiller as typecast for the midlife crisis man? With films such as Greenberg, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and While We’re Young, Stiller seems to check the boxes for disillusionment past the age of forty. Stiller has evolved from comedy into drama in the past decade. If the movies are past the laughs, you’ll still find yourself cackling at several moments with any of his films. Stiller is a natural comedian, but with the movies noted above and including Mike White’s Brad’s Status, he continues to develop as an actor who, although he has been cast in similar roles, has brought depth and nuance to each one. He takes a tiny but important leap in his evolution in Brad’s Status.
Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is a mildly successful middle-aged man who is now burdened with the responsibility of sending his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), to college. The Sloans are well off. They live in suburban Sacramento. Brad’s wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) is a pillar of content and stability. Yet Brad finds himself questioning his own success. “Is this good enough?”, “Am I a failure?”, “How will I pay for my son’s tuition at Harvard?” are questions he asks himself as he rustles through his bedsheets failing to sleep at night. Throughout the film, Brad’s inner thoughts are narrated. His mind wanders and it intensifies as he and his son take part in a college tour in Boston.
In their time in Boston, Brad thinks back to his time in college. Amongst his best friends, he is the only one who remains a fierce idealist but has become jaded over time. Compared to his peers, he considers his life a failure. Craig (Michael Sheen) is a celebrated political analyst. Jason (Luke Wilson) owns a hedge fund. And Billy (Jemaine Clement) is a faux-Richard Branson. Brad wanders back and forth with reality, his imagination, and being a father. Over time, the neurosis develops, the laughs are mustered, and the drama is weaved. Mike White does a wonderful job pulling double duty as the screenwriter and the director.
Brad interacts with his three college roommates, and as successful as they are, their lives are not as great as one would imagine. Brad has this realization in the climax of the movie when he has dinner with Craig. From that point on, one must decide whether Brad’s Status is satisfactory or if he was the failure he worked himself up to be.
This is the most important facet of the film and it resonates deeply with millennials. Is it okay to be content and happy? Or should one strive, overachieve, and live a life climbing up apex after apex? White (not a millennial) does a good job accurately depicting the generation gap between parents and millennial teens. The goals and values are different, and once the two generations can find an understanding, it is actually a beautiful thing to witness.
Brad’s Status had enough depth and thought-provoking moments to make it a memorable movie, led by Ben Stiller.