Brad’s Status (2017)
Directed by Sidney Kimmel
The best kind of satire lets the audience identify with the protagonist before showing them the error of his—and their own—ways. Writer/director Mike White (“School of Rock”) puts this at the core of “Brad’s Status,” his piercing attack on privilege and first world problems, in which Ben Stiller portrays a father unsure of his place in the world. On a college visit with his talented musician son Troy (Austin Abrams), Brad (Stiller) reflects on his own success, and lack thereof, by comparing himself to his group of friends from college—an author and public speaker (Michael Sheen), a tech guru who retired to Maui at age 40 (Jemaine Clement), a hedge fund billionaire with his own jet (Luke Wilson), and a Hollywood director whose mansion earned him a cover story in an architecture magazine (White). Even with an upper-middle-class Sacramento home, a non-profit startup, a successful son, and a devoted wife (Jenna Fischer), Brad feels less-than. Even when it’s pointed out that he has it much better off than people around the world, he rebuts by saying he can only compare himself to the people he knows, and from where he sits, they all have it better than he has it—more money, more houses, more sex, etc. And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ve all felt these sorts of inadequacies and doubts. But while movies often try to hook audiences by being ultra-relatable, most don’t do anything once they get you on the hook. They don’t reel you in. “Brad’s Status” uses that shared experience to work through some of those thoughts, and it changes Brad (and you) in the process.
At this point, Ben Stiller might become known for portraying characters grappling with their place in a changing world. Brad could very well have been friends with Josh, Stiller’s character in Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young.” Both men cling to their pride and their integrity while struggling with their own failures and feeling excluded by both their middle-aged friends and also the millennials they desperately hope to relate to. Both men are afraid of getting older and growing up. They’re both torn between idealism and pragmatism. Perhaps you’re already tired of Stiller’s neurotic cynicism, but when he captures the internal struggle of a character as well as he does in “Brad’s Status,” it’s hard to argue he’s not the perfect man for the job. His diary-like voiceover reveals his inner thoughts. He tells us what he can’t tell his son, his wife, his friends…or, if he’s not telling us, we’re listening anyway.
My girlfriend and I walked out of “Brad’s Status” torn. She didn’t relate to Brad’s struggle. As a female, I think maybe she couldn’t have. Brad’s male privilege, his uniquely male thoughts and fears, his ego…these are all defining characteristics of the protagonist who appears in nearly every scene. And as a son, the father-son bonding experience at the center of the story spoke to me directly. I can’t say whether it will speak to you. Maybe the fact that I related to Brad’s mostly unlikable character says something unflattering about me. But if it helps you examine parts of yourself that need to be examined, maybe “Brad’s Status” has done its job.