DIR/WRI: Mike White • PRO: David Bernad, Dede Gardner, Sidney Kimmel, Jeremy Kleiner • DOP: Xavier Grobet • ED: Heather Persons Jon Poll, Spencer Susser • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • DES: Richard Hoover • CAST: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer
Ben Stiller is perfectly cast as Brad Sloan in this salutary tale of male middle-aged crisis. It is difficult to imagine any other actor being as credible in a role which he inhabits with a combination of humour and darkness.
As the title suggests, Brad’s Status is primarily about our hero’s pre-occupation with his status. The film is also concerned with the value we attach to status and material possessions vis-à-vis human relationships – in particular Brad’s relationship with his son, Troy and to a lesser extent, his wife.
The film opens with a voiceover from Brad lying awake in bed as his wife sleeps beside him. Brad feels life has let him down on all fronts.
The voiceover from Brad is darkly comic. It sets the tone and appears regularly throughout the film as a narrative device. That may seem like cheap exposition. But it works well as a means of contrasting Brad’s bleak perception of his lot with a different reality. He has a lot going for him. But Brad does not do gratitude. That is not unusual in human kind, but the theme is rarely observed as acutely as here.
Brad’s obsession with the status and wealth of his peers is eating away at him. The catalyst for the escalating crisis is Brad’s son, Troy, who is about to flee the nest for college. Troy is unsure which college he will qualify for. He has an important interview which will decide whether he makes it to an Ivy League College or not. This involves a journey, literally and metaphorically, for Troy and Brad, who travels with him for the interview.
Brad reflects back on his own college days when he and his friends were very happy. In the years after, Brad has lost touch with those friends, who have all become high achievers with commensurate wealth and status.
Brad started work as an idealistic young graduate in an organisation dedicated to fund raising for Charity. He has remained there. However, his idealism has completely evaporated and he bitterly regrets he didn’t follow the money. When he monitors the progress of his former friends on social media, news of their exploits propels him into a spiral of jealousy and depression.
But in order to help Troy, Brad has to resort to contacting some of those friends – and play the game of pretence. That facility for pretence is something they all still have in common.
Brad has much to be grateful for, including his wife and son, who both have a much healthier outlook on life. They also clearly love Brad. But Brad aspires to a romantic life akin to one of his old friends who has two concubines half his age. Brad’s fantasy life extends to dreaming of a similar arrangement with two of Troy’s female friends.
There is potential redemption for Brad. He genuinely loves his son. But his ham-fisted attempts to assist Troy are more hindrance than help. Troy is the adolescent, but he has not inherited the adolescent world view of his father.
One of the stand-out scenes in the film involves Brad and one of Troy’s young female friends whom Brad is secretly lusting after.
Troy is played with great assurance by Austin Abrams. He has many scenes opposite Stiller, but he consistently holds his own as a mature and thoughtful young man who has way more depth than his father. Abrams will not be short of offers of work following this outing.
Jenna Fisher as Brad’s wife Melanie is impressive as a woman doing her best to remain positive and upbeat in the face of Brad’s downbeat world view. I felt there was more scope for developing the dynamic of her relationship with Brad. She appears a bit too stoic. Michael Sheen is excellent as one of Brad’s former friends.
In some ways this is a moral tale about the value and focus we put on status and wealth over those who we truly care about. This film has many comic moments but there is a dark core to it which many may resonate uncomfortably for many.
Brian Ó Tiomáin
15A (See IFCO for details)
Brad’s Status is released 5th January 2018