First-world problems trigger beta-male, middle-aged angst in Mike White’s comedy drama Brad’s Status, with a father/son relationship at its heart.
How Can I Be Sureby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Brad’s Status is entirely seen through the eyes and the uncomfortable, comically anguished and sometimes touching voiceover comments of Ben Stiller, the epitome of sharp-featured neurotic male insecurity. By taking his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to attend interviews at prestigious Boston-based universities that he’s applied to, he has to confront what he perceives as his own lack of success compared to his group of old university friends – and his musically talented son.
Brad’s haunted by his feelings of inadequacy, grief at missed opportunities and the disparity he thinks exists between the life he has in suburban Sacramento and the life he imagined, with only a non-profit consultancy as an achievement. To help, as he thinks, Troy’s applications he contacts the group again to call in favours, only to find he has been dropped from their alpha-male, high-flying lives. One (Jermaine Clement) is an internet entrepreneur who has retired to Maui, another (Luke Wilson) is an apparently super-rich hedge fund manager, another at his gay wedding is played by director Mike White (The School of Rock and screenwriter of Beatriz at Dinner) himself and Craig (a convincingly oleaginous, patronising Martin Sheen) is a political consultant to the White House and recognisable media personality.
Central is Brad’s relationship with Troy. In galling contrast to his father, Troy is laid back, comfortable in his skin and prematurely savvy about how the world works. He has a musical talent that assures him of future success and an entrée to Harvard (if he wants it) which his father couldn’t manage. Through him, Brad meets two impressive female students (Shazi Raja and Luisa Lee) and is faced with some unexpected home truths.
Troy seems the more mature one of the father and son duo – he’s tolerant, accepting and effortlessly cool in the face of his father’s existential angst, both spoken and unspoken. Brad also has crucial emotional support from his kind wife (Jenna Fischer) that’s more important to him than he realises, even though he blames his lack of ambition on her making him happy. And, if he could only see it, in these two respects he may actually not be the comparative loser he tortures himself with being.
Ben Stiller nails his introspective, neurotic schtick in the same way as he did in The Meyerowitz Stories , aided by the jagged strings of a musical score that atmospherically underlines his mental state. Austin Abrams (We Don’t Belong Here) is a talented screen presence. Brad’s Status is enjoyable, it’s well observed and well acted, surprisingly fresh and not as conventionally predictable as you might imagine.
Brad’s Status is released on 5 January 2018 in the UK.