Over a decade ago, Ben Stiller starred opposite Jack Black in Envy. As the title suggests, the entire movie was about Stiller’s character being envious of Black’s success. Brad’s Status finds Stiller in a similar role, although the film goes beyond simply telling jokes about dog poop. It’s a humorous, relatable, and wise film, although not wholly original. We’ve seen many of the themes here in movies that took more chances with inspired twists. For what we do get, however, writer/director Mike White’s script will resonate with anybody that’s ever experienced the phenomenon of disappointment.
Stiller plays the titular Brad, a middle-aged man with a loving wife (Jenna Fischer), a gifted son (Austin Abrams), and a respectable job at a nonprofit business. So naturally, Brad is incredibly unsatisfied with how his life has turned out. Although Brad should be grateful for everything he has, he can’t help but compare himself to his more successful friends from college. This includes Jemaine Clement’s Billy, who retired by age 40, Luke Wilson’s Jason, who apparently has a private plane, and Michael Sheen’s Craig, a political figure that used to work at the White House.
As Brad takes his son on a college road trip to Harvard, he starts to reconnect with some of his old friends. Of course he spends more time thinking about the luxurious lifestyles they must have. When he’s not resenting his former classmates, Brad is fantasizing about the roads not taken and what his son will be like if he ever finds success. His internal monologue sums up white privilege in a nutshell, as he continually whines about First World problems. At a certain point you might ask yourself, “why should I sympathize with a guy who has it better than a wide fraction of the world?” While we may not sympathize with Brad per se, we do come to identify with him.
Especially in an age of social media, it’s common for people to look up old friends and see how much better they’re doing. A person can seemingly be on top of the world, but still feel like they’re below someone else. Like Beatriz at Dinner, another film White wrote, Brad’s Status isn’t afraid to tackle some uncomfortable situations and make its characters unlikable on occasion. Even when Brad is at his worst, though, Stiller’s subtle performance brings a real humanity to the character we can all see ourselves in.
If you’ve seen American Beauty, City Slickers, Sideways, or any other movies about men that endure a midlife crisis, Brad’s Status probably isn’t going to be an eye-opening outing. The film can be overly familiar and might’ve benefited if the runtime had been cut down by about fifteen minutes. At the same time, though, the film is like a little vacation. It allows the audience to take a moment and clear their heads, putting things into perspective. Walking out of the theater, you’ll likely feel more content with your place in the world and that’s the kind of reassurance everybody could use.