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‘Brad’s Status’ Update: Fine (Movie Review)

There’s a point in Brad’s Status where Ben Stiller’s character is called out for what he considers to be his stumbling blocks in life. He’s told he falls under white, male privilege, with first-class problems. There’s no doubt Brad is an entitled character who spends the film providing voiceover about how his respectable, decent life is not sufficient. The key to this film’s enjoyment comes from just how writer/director Mike White configures the story to comment on how obviously oblivious Brad is to everything that he has going for him. Plenty of small comedy-dramas seem to find (white, male) directors pouring their hearts out on the screen when it comes to exploring their dissatisfaction. Brad’s Status does just enough to not make it sound like too much whining.

Stiller stars as Brad Sloan. He’s a good-natured guy living in suburban Sacramento with a sweet-natured wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), and their college-ready son, Troy (Austin Abrams). Brad owns a successful enough non-profit business but calls into question his level of comfort when comparing himself to his much more successful friends from college (cameo roles filled by Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson and director White).

I’ve been continually interested in the 2010’s career of Stiller, as he has repeatedly starred in films such as this. Sometimes they work out well (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), and other times it just feels like a tired retread (The Watch).  Strange asides such as Zoolander No. 2 notwithstanding, there’s been a continual groove Stiller has occupied in the form of passive aggressive hero with enough endearing qualities or goofy sensibilities to make you want to root for him, in spite of his okay position in life. With Brad’s Status, I’m not about to call into question whether he needs to keep doing these roles (he’s good in them), but I do wonder if he gets satisfaction from them, compared to something more akin to his insecure satirical characters such as Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder.

Regardless, the bulk of the story focuses on Brad and Troy’s trip to Boston, where the two explore college possibilities. Troy is apparently a prodigy with a chance at Harvard not being out of the question. Still, Brad continually thinks about all the things going on in his life and what he imagines to be happening with his friends. Circumstances force him to reconnect with them at various points, but Brad may find that success could be rooted elsewhere.

There is not much surprise in this film, as the average decent person knows what to put real value in. I believe White understands this as well, as the movie is much more a meditative comedy than an ambitious drama. The major revelations are not scored with triumphant music, and while the film is filled with wall-to-wall monologues, nothing is presented in a manner that could be deemed incredibly insightful. This is quite fitting for the creator of HBO’s brilliant, but short-lived, comedy-drama Enlightened.

So what is there to champion? Well, the film may be dispensing fortune-cookie knowledge by way of a 50-year old white guy, but he is an entertaining person. Brad in his melancholy form may not be someone I’d be anxious to hang out with, but Stiller is good in this part, with a relaxed naturalness that plays well in his interactions with others, be it Abrams as his son (another strong performance) or his former friends. There’s also enough situational comedy to mine from relatable experiences to continually provide the film with a mix of chuckle and cringe-worthy moments.

Best of all, however, is the way in which the film is seemingly happier in taking itself down a peg, rather than double-down on why it should feel important. It knows what it is and proceeds along, because why should White back down from a story he has a personal interest in? His efforts are focused enough to tell a decently engaging story that features some nuanced performances (White has continually gotten great work out of Wilson). There may be too much emphasis on Brad feeling tortured over every thought he has, but there’s also a sweet father-son story that allows for sincere enough qualities to emerge. It’s enough to hold onto the nice feeling needed, given how bittersweet much of the film is.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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