Brad's Status

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Brad's Status
"Brad is a painstakingly developed character and one who is often sympathetic, if not exactly likeable, but he's also a character we've seen many times before."

A contemporary take on mid-life crisis emerges in the form of a classic fable in Ben Stiller's latest film, which sees a troubled father project his anxieties onto his son as he takes him on a tour of prospective universities. Trying to pull strings to make sure the youth gets the place he ought to have (not necessarily the one he wants), the titular Brad reconnects with his own old college friends and panics as he begins to measure his achievements against theirs.

Brad is a painstakingly developed character and one who is often sympathetic, if not exactly likeable, but he's also a character we've seen many times before, almost interchangeable with Stiller's resentful son in The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) or even with his 2010 Greenberg. Given this, the film feels more like an episode in a rather downbeat sitcom than something made for the big screen, despite director Mike White's long, luminous shots of college campuses, caf├ęs and bars. There's little in the way of father-son bonding, with Brad respecting his son's differentness and independence from the outset, just as the youth accepts that his dad is a bit screwed up. This is an introspective film about a man whose primary concern about the world is how well he fits into it.

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In a series of vignettes, we encounter Brad's old friends, learning more about their seemingly perfect lives - which are, of course, far from perfect in reality. Brad's unpleasantness towards them is really aimed at himself, but also reflects the tension between two strands of American culture. Has he wasted his life by working for non-profits and good causes? Have his friends wasted theirs by making money? How is a man's status ultimately measured?

The impact of all this angst is dulled somewhat by the fact that Brad is obviously very comfortably off and even the young student to whom he confesses his woes, the one who shares the dreams he had in youth, doesn't seem to face any real prospect of financial struggle. The external world having failed to offer serious challenges, Brad seems to feel forced into challenging himself like a man confronting the absence of God. This is also familiar stuff, however, and it's no surprise that the teenager calls him out on it.

This is a notably more mature take on the story than many that have gone before. It is refreshing that not only does the student show no sexual interest in Brad, but he doesn't expect or try to solicit any. His concern at his son's choice to become a musician does not extend to the assumption that it's his place to get in the way. His tragedy is that his greater self awareness doesn't ease his general insecurity, and it's amplified by the suggestion that, just as he is better adjusted socially than his cinematic predecessors, so things are likely to be easier again for his son's generation - perhaps his pain is in part a product of the unfortunate timing of his birth, as he tries to bear up a weight of masculine expectation despite the suspicion that there's nothing to be gained from doing so. Here Stiller uses his characteristic brittleness to great effect, other emotions breaking through only slowly. Is there any way for Brad to escape himself?

The odd title suggests social media activity. Brad is not slow to broadcast his angst to all and sundry. But this is just a snapshot, a single post, an image of his image of himself. It can only matter in the context of what remains unseen beyond its boundaries.

Reviewed on: 02 Jan 2018
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Brad's Status packshot
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's choices.

Director: Mike White

Writer: Mike White

Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Shazi Raja, Luisa Lee

Year: 2017

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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