- Product Rating -

Brad’s Status

| November 7, 2017

I often times get flack for coming off as unjustifiably cynical when I’m not really trying to be; it’s just within my nature. I would say that it’s arguable that it’s within everyone’s nature, but that argument isn’t really one worth bothering to have. What may be egoism and egotism to one person is just life itself to another, and Mike White understands the mindset of the former and how it plays into the self-described earnestness of the latter. Brad’s Status isn’t so much a look of a need for success as it is a want for some sort of validation through others, and with the introspection at its core and commentary on privilege, it often makes for an engaging viewing. It can, however, overstay its welcome and exhibit the flaws of its protagonist.

47-year-old Brad (Ben Stiller) lives with his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and 17-year-old son Troy (Austin Abrams), traveling with the latter to Boston to look at prospective colleges, namely Harvard and Tufts. As he observes and questions the potential of his son, he thinks back to his college friends (Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement) and their success that exceeds his own, wondering about his worth as a person and how it plays into the growth of his son. For the first third or so, the movie is often annoying, fully within the perspective of its protagonist and unaware of his privilege as a result, but it’s as the film progresses that White, who wrote and directed here, begins to find footing on his themes and ideas.

Rooted by a surprisingly solid dramatic turn from Stiller and a plethora of supporting players who often times get fittingly small amounts of screen time, it’s really White’s script that acts as the backbone of it all. This is a writer’s movie, not so much a director’s. The voiceover work throughout the film that could easily and immediately tip into intrusiveness maintains a stream-of-consciousness flow to it that runs parallel to Brad’s general passivity, and it works well for the tone of the film. The feeling of being stuck in time isn’t unique—it’s the lack of agency that comes with it that stands out when in that frame of mind. The scope is rather fascinating in that it often times flips seamlessly between subjectivity and objectivity, but it can be a bit too intent on being subjective for the movie’s own good as a whole.

As stated earlier, the first act—and maybe a bit more—is perturbing in how it unconditionally sympathizes with Brad, who is, at his core, a pretty unlikeable character at times. White treats his wife as an archetypal and almost useless wife character aside from some quick asides from Brad addressing their relationship. Similarly, the number of college friends that he compares himself to diluted them each to an extent; Wilson and especially Clement’s characters are extraneous. Without them, the film would have kept its pace more consistent, which would have been nice given White’s lack of visual flair as a director.

Nevertheless, Brad’s Status understands as its core what it’s trying to say even if it can’t always convey it. It may come off as self-indulgent at times, but that’s not the issue—all art is self-indulgent. It excess of side characters and too long of a time finding its thesis statement lead to what can at times feel like a script needing another draft or two, but its path is clear and the ideas are always present. In an unintentional way, that kind of makes sense. People have ideas and intentions, but applying those to reality is another animal.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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