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Brad's Status

BRAD'S STATUS

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mike White

Cast: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Shazi Raja, Luisa Lee, Mike White

MPAA Rating: R (for language)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 9/15/17 (limited); 9/22/17 (wide)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 21, 2017

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) can't sleep. His life isn't what he thought it would be. It doesn't help that he sees all of his friends from college living some form of dream. He's 47. This is the end of his potential. Wherever he's at now in his life, that's where he's going to stay for the remainder of it.

Brad's Status opens with a lengthy internal monologue of envy, pettiness, weird logic, and depressed thoughts. It's not always a monologue, though, because, at a certain point, Brad accidentally hits his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) in the face while he tosses and turns in bed. Maybe it's for the best. After all, misery loves company.

She's not much of a help, though—not in convincing Brad that his life is fine enough and especially not in joining her husband's pity party. Surely there's some money to be had somewhere. That's what all of college buddies have—money. That gave them their lives.

Craig (Michael Sheen) worked as a political consultant, and now his face is plastered all over television and on the back cover of his new book. Jason (Luke Wilson) became a lawyer, and now that guy has a private jet. Surely Nick (writer/director Mike White), living it up in Hollywood as an out-and-proud member of the cultural elite, has a private jet, too. Maybe that detail is in the magazine article about the guy, but if it is, Brad didn't read it: He can't get past the pictures of the guy with his boyfriend, posed together with the backdrop of a mansion that's fancy enough to make it as the cover story to an architecture magazine. Billy (Jemaine Clement), the last of the group, is already retired after selling a tech company he started. He now lives on an island paradise, surrounded by beautiful women and doing whatever he wants whenever he wants.

Brad's thoughts linger on them, but they mostly linger on how he hasn't lived up to the status that they've achieved. Certainly there's money somewhere. His own father isn't going to leave him much of an inheritance. How much are Melanie's parents going to leave her when they die? That question isn't part of his internal monologue, by the way. He actually asks his wife to estimate how much he and his family will profit off her parents' deaths.

Brad has problems, and White's film doesn't sugarcoat, make excuses for, or try to psychoanalyze them in the slightest. Some would call this a midlife crisis. At one point, his son Troy (Austin Abrams), who's at the age of looking at colleges, wonders if his father is suffering a nervous breakdown. If Brad's problems were so simple to define, there might be as an easy enough solution to them. They aren't, so there isn't.

The film is a comedy, by the way. It's a smart, perceptive one, too, because it simultaneously recognizes that Brad's concerns are legitimate but that his perspective is so off that most of his worries are self-imposed. To judge himself, a family man who started his own non-profit organization, against his peers is folly. None of them is doing what he has done. They've made different choices, even amongst themselves—excluding Brad. That's what it seems that they're doing—excluding Brad. How much of that, though, has to do with their successes, and how much of that has to do with the fact that Brad is an envious, miserable man who wouldn't be fun company?

Brad isn't fun company, but we have to stay with him and inside his mind for the entirety of the film, which follows the father as he takes his son on a college tour in Boston (The kid might get into Harvard). This is tough, partly because we want to shout at Brad to get over himself, to see what's right in front of him, and to stop judging his own life against absurd and irrelevant markers. The other part of the film's discomfort is that any honest person will see at least some of himself or herself in Brad. Maybe it's not the extent of the character, but surely, we all can admit that, at one point or another, we've felt a bit jealous of someone else's success, had a sting of doubt when seeing someone else make it, and wondered what we did wrong that we haven't achieved what others have.

This is an extreme case of something recognizable, and the film's humor comes from that simple premise. It's as easy to sympathize with Brad as it is to keep a certain distance from him whenever he goes off the rails in his envy (There's a moment when he sabotages the pride he has for his son's potential, by shifting to fear that he'll eventually be jealous of his own kid, and it's as funny as it is off-putting in its twisted logic).

Stiller's performance is crucial to the film's effect and effectiveness, and it's some inspired, internalized work from an actor who typically doesn't operate in that mode. Of the friends, who primarily appear in Brad's fantasies of what their lives must be like, Sheen and Clement stand out—the first for subverting, then confirming, Brad's suspicions and the second for garnering laughs from doing very little.

White could do something easy to help Brad come to his eventual revelation—namely to depict the reality of the friends' lives as being counter to Brad's thoughts about them. He doesn't, though. These guys may have problems, but those problems don't change Brad's perception, because the friends are still more than well-to-do. Brad's Status isn't about easy answers. It's about looking envy and pettiness in the face, laughing at those qualities, and then shuddering out of uncomfortable recognition.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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