Brad’s Status (2017)

  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Mike White
  • Cast: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Michael Sheen, Jenna Fischer, Luke Wilson

Storyline:

A father takes his son to tour colleges on the East Coast and meets up with an old friend who makes him feel inferior about his life’s choices.

2 reviews

  • “Be present” is Melanie’s last advice to Brad as he takes son Troy to Boston for a college tour. Melanie knows Brad needs this advice. Of course, he doesn’t follow it.
    Indeed most of the film is Brad’s absent-mindedness, the memories and fantasies that form his interior monologue about his “status.” He’s so tied to this tormenting reverie that he’s not “present.” He misses out on the pleasure he should be getting from his son’s adventure. That’s what Melanie regrets having to miss. Worse, the more nervous and aggressive Brad gets the more he disturbs Troy, whose rigorous schedule would be better served by Brad’s quiet support.
    Brad’s decision to establish a philanthropic organization has cost him the kind of successful career his college buddies had. Their fame, fortune, celebrity and flash make Brad feel invisible. He wasn’t even invited to buddy Nick’s gay marriage.
    Brad’s fear of having failed drives him to irrational impulses. He tries to bully the Harvard admissions officers. He sneaks out for drinks with the two girls he met with Troy. Even when Brad’s intervention works — getting a Harvard friend’s help for Troy — Brad seems to be acting more for his own shaken ego than for his son.
    Melanie later offers even stronger advice: “You have enough.” Enough Brad certainly has: the satisfaction of his idealistic career project; the beautiful, wise still idealistic wife; the impressively poised, sensitive, mature son; a comfortable home and lifestyle. What he thinks he lacks is the false values promoted by Trump materialism. Brad’s status is quite solid, until he judges his “status” from the current shallows by which Trump would consider Brad “a loser.”
    This film is a defence of the Trump “loser.” It reverses Trump’s reversal of American values. That’s the theme this film shares with writer/director Mike White’s earlier script for Beatriz at Dinner.
    By assuming the Trump values Brad sinks into a larger problem in Trump’s America: the insularity, arrogance and selfishness of white male privilege. That’s what appals the idealistic student with whom he’s drinking and to whom he tries to justify himself, digging his hole ever deeper.
    Brad’s self-flagellation starts to pivot on his dinner date with the media success Craig Fisher. It starts with Brad being reminded of his place. The star immediately wins them a better table. Brad is unsettled to learn that Fisher spoke at the memorial for Brad’s university mentor; Brad hadn’t even heard of his demise.
    Then the mood shifts. Fisher dispels Brad’s illusions about their old pals, less in kindness than in one-upmanship. Their wealthiest success has been exposed as a thief (adding to the man’s fear for his infant daughter’s spinal condition). The rich buddy living the idyllic beach life is a lost druggie and alcoholic. Hey, so money doesn’t buy happiness? Who knew.
    Fisher reports that their gay friend Nick has since his marriage turned him even more flaming. Fisher means this as a put-down, but it rather supports the value Brad needs to remember: the importance of freely and openly being oneself. The Nick character gains emphasis from director White’s playing it.
    The conversation crumbles when Brad tries to get personal with Fisher. Brad tells him he’s proud of his friend’s success. But Fisher doesn’t remember the friendly competition Brad remembers they had. There’s a reflexive condescension in Fisher’s “Why would I feel competitive with you?” Rather than court more condescension and self-doubt Brad leaves.
    He moves toward three emotional resolutions. The first is the intense pleasure of the concert, seeing and hearing the beautiful performance, holding his son’s hand. That pleasure moves Brad to tears his pains couldn’t. The second is his new candour with Troy. After Brad confesses his insecurity, Troy simply says he loves him. Pure and simple, like Austin Abrams’ marvellously suggestive, controlled performance. The third is Melanie’s reminder: “You have enough.” Brad’s status is quite enough, thank you, so long as he doesn’t get caught up in “status.”

  • A heartfelt and piercing portrait of a white and privileged middle-aged malcontent, writer-director Mike White’s Brad’s Status also features another career-best performance from Ben Stiller (following on the heels of Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories) as the titular character.

    “Be happy. Be present,” Brad’s wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) urges him as she sees him and their teenage son Troy (Austin Abrams) off at the airport as they leave to begin a tour of East Coast colleges. Indeed, Brad spends most of his time conducting an internal conversation with himself. Though living an upper-middle-class life in Sacramento with his wife and musically gifted son, he can’t shake off the feeling that life is somehow against him, especially when he compares his life to those of his college friends.

    There’s Nick Pascale (White), a Hollywood director successful enough for his home to be featured on the cover of Architectural Digest and whose recent wedding to his boyfriend Brad wasn’t aware of because he wasn’t invited. Billy Wearsiter (Jemaine Clement) sold his tech company, retired at 40, and is living a life of leisure in Maui. Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson) has a hedge fund, owns three houses, is a philanthropist, and travels around the world in his private jet. Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen), meanwhile, works for the White House, writes best-selling novels, and is a popular political talking head. Craig probably flies private as well, Brad thinks: “Must be nice to always have the seas part for you. Nothing’s out of reach. Everything an option. Always feeling important, special, better than.”

    Brad places some blame on Melanie’s lap for the way his life has turned out. Maybe if she wasn’t so easily satisfied with her lot in life, maybe her contentment undermined his ambition. Yet even as part of him knows that no one else but him was responsible for the choices he made, he still feels that all he has is not enough and his deep well of inadequacy is constantly filled by incidents such as not being able to get an upgrade on the flight he and his son are taking or getting a better table in the restaurant where he and Craig reunite. His jealousy even extends to his own son, whose failure he believes will highlight his own but whose success may do the same if his son lords it over him.

    Of course, all of this is nothing but absolute perception on Brad’s part. Nick, Billy, Jason, and Craig are mostly ever seen through his envy-fueled imaginings and, when he does make contact with them, he’s surprised by the actual realities of their lives. Everyone has problems and Brad, though he may believe otherwise, is luckier than most. As Troy’s college-aged friend Ananya (Shazi Raja) points out he may be moaning about being ignored at a dinner party, but there are people in the world who are grateful to simply have dinner. It’s amazing that he’s nearly 50 and still believes the world was made for him, she marvels as she calls him out on his “white privilege, male privilege, and first-world problems. I promise you, you have enough.”

    With Stiller rendering Brad’s narcissistic insecurities painful, relatable, and repellent to witness, Brad’s Status makes for a consistently riveting watch. White underlines Stiller’s affecting performance with his sharp dialogue and unobtrusive direction, commenting on Brad’s and, by extension, most white male liberals’, self-sabotaging delusions with clarity and criticism without sacrificing humaneness.

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