September 15, 2017

Movie review - "Brad's Status"

By Carl Kozlowski *
Official movie poster for “Brad’s Status” / Credit: Amazon Studios
Official movie poster for “Brad’s Status” / Credit: Amazon Studios

It’s easy to overlook counting our blessings, and the new movie “Brad’s Status” tries to provide a thoughtful and occasionally funny reminder of that unfortunate fact. It stars Ben Stiller as Brad, a 47-year-old husband and father who is wallowing in a mid-life crisis while taking his teenage son on a weekend college scouting trip that includes his own alma mater, Tufts University.

The fact he’s returning to his old stomping grounds leads Brad to reminisce and obsess on his life choices in comparison to his more successful old college buddies. Yet he’s overlooking the fact that he has a pretty good life going for himself.  

Written and directed by Mike White, who has previously written several movies with fresh points of view including “School of Rock,” “Nacho Libre” and “The Good Girl,” the film places the focus largely on Stiller and his interior monologues complaining about his average life. That’s not necessarily a good decision, since Brad and the old friends he obsesses about are so miserable and annoying that few viewers will want to spend any time with them.

Brad is first seen tossing and turning in his sleep, asking himself how his life turned out the way it has before asking his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) if they are likely to inherit her wealthy parents’ expensive home in the hopes that it would be their backup plan for a cushy retirement.

Brad heads his own non-profit while Melanie has a secure government job, giving them a solid upper-middle-class life, but he’s obsessed with the fact that several of his college friends have gone on to vast success in high-profile industries. Jason (Luke Wilson) is head of a hedge fund, while Billy (Jemaine Clement) has sold his tech company and retired to a life of drug-taking and living with two women on an island, and Nick (Mike White, who also wrote and directed the movie) is a hotshot filmmaker who’s gay and throwing pool parties for lots of young men en route to getting married.

While those three are mostly seen in Brad’s jealous imaginings, he forces a reunion with Craig (Michael Sheen), who has become a prominent TV pundit and author and has the connections to help Troy get special attention at Harvard. The tension behind that meeting and Brad’s encounters with Troy’s young idealistic friends force him into some serious reckonings about the state of his own life.

“Status” revolves so much around Brad’s impressions and ideas of what his old friends’ lives are like that viewers are shown almost nothing of their actual realities. This could be White’s way of showing how clueless Brad himself is about their lives, but the fact that Brad barely connects with any of them other than Craig gives the audience little to care about.

Stiller does a solid job as Brad, conveying the well of emotions that are bottled up inside of him, but his incessant whining is largely unappealing. Abrams as Troy has the most genuine interactions with Brad, but he’s not called upon to show much range other than being a nice kid who is increasingly worried by his dad’s obvious sadness.

When Stiller is able to cut loose a little and put some comic energy into his complaints while trying to get an airline seating upgrade or convince Harvard officials to bend their rules a little, “Status” shows some sparks of life. But such moments are too few and far between.

On the plus side, “Status” does have some affecting moments, since nearly everyone has at some point questioned their life choices, and it does show Brad to be a loving husband and father, which is all too rare in movies these days.

White uses discretion in depicting Billy and Nick’s hedonistic lifestyles, with both largely implied rather than graphically shown, and there’s some casual but not overbearing use of the F word scattered throughout the film.  

 “Brad’s Status” opens in a few major cities this weekend before opening more widely Sept. 22. 

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.