With Mike White’s Brad’s Status, a serious Ben Stiller plays a character like those he’s embodied in his work with Noah Baumbach. Brad is familiar – another version of the antiheroes in Greenberg and While We’re Young – yet he’s the flipside of Stiller’s more high-flying character in Baumbach’s latest, The Meyerowitz Stories.
It’s hard to take Brad’s navel-gazing concerns seriously in the first act – financial worries don’t convince, given the generically luxurious film-setting home in which he, his wife and son live. Thankfully, Brad’s Status proves to be much more self-aware than its protagonist, who receives a highly gratifying takedown from an intelligent young woman.
After its irritating opening, Brad’s Status manages to become a charming father-son odyssey. It’s most touching when painting the miscommunications, evasions and artifices which characterise this relationship. This is thanks in no small part to Austin Abrams’ performance – painfully and relatably awkward, filled with physical nuance – and to the writing of his character, which excels anything else in White’s screenplay.
The only narrative conflict the film solves is that of its own making: the protagonist’s self-obsession, greed, and hankering for status. Brad learns to recognise what any woke viewer can discern in the first two minutes: rather than complaining that his friends have more money and success than him, he should acknowledge his myriad privileges as a white middle-class man. The film is self-indulgent formally as well. Exhaustive and exhausting voiceover represents Brad’s interior monologue, and an extremely over-the-top comedic score is also over-used.
This is essentially a seriocomic tale of the ridiculous foibles of male ego, and as entertaining as that can be, Brad’s Status never quite does enough to transcend its problematic male-centric perspective. White does touch on a lot of interesting issues – perhaps too many – but unfortunately doesn’t develop most of them.
CAST: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen
DIRECTOR: Mike White
WRITER: Mike White
SYNOPSIS: 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 choices.