Midlife crises can manifest themselves in various ways, and in the case of the title character in Brad’s Status, they can be almost entirely self-inflicted.
However, watching a contemporary misanthrope wallow in self-pity and regret isn’t as depressing as it sounds in this incisive and well-acted character study that might allow you to appreciate your own situation by comparison.
Ben Stiller plays the title role, as the founder of a nonprofit who lives in Sacramento with his wife (Jenna Fischer) and teenage son, Troy (Austin Abrams), a talented pianist who’s looking at high-profile colleges.
That leads father and son to venture to Boston for an admissions interview at Harvard, which happens to be Troy’s top choice. Brad struggles to celebrate such a potential achievement, however, because he sees Troy’s college choice as a reflection on his own accomplishments and his avenue to avenging the perceived slights of his small group of college friends.
His ex-classmates have each attained greater fame and fortune, especially a smug entrepreneur (Michael Sheen) from whom Brad must begrudgingly request a favor.
Brad dwells on those jealousies and insecurities, as revealed through an internal monologue that comprises a large chunk of the dialogue. “There are times you realize your entire life’s work is absurd and you have nothing to show for it,” he laments to nobody in particular.
The screenplay by director Mike White — who wrote School of Rock, among others, and plays a small role in this film — throws around lots of metaphors while sprinkling in plenty of amusing quirks and sardonic observations to compensate for the self-absorbed brooding of its protagonist.
Brad’s Status manages to balance satirizing upper-middle class snobbery without indulging in it. The result is not as profound as it aspires to be, although it deals with relatable issues beneath the surface, such as keeping problems in perspective, letting go of past grudges, fathers living vicariously through their children, straightening out your priorities, and accepting your lot in life.
Still, White and Stiller deserve credit for honesty. Most of us know someone vaguely like Brad, who isn’t an easy target for sympathy, and the film doesn’t allow him a trite path to catharsis or epiphany. With modest ambitions, it scores accordingly.