By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Call it typecasting, but Ben Stiller has an undeniable talent for portraying actors going through midlife crises. He has starred in two Noah Baumbach films, Greenberg and While We’re Young, where he portrayed two very different types of characters going through this crisis very well while showing some definite range with his acting in both of these roles. Well, Stiller has returned to a another, very different, “mature” male role going through the uneasiness and misgivings of getting older. In Mike White’s Brad’s Status, Stiller shines once again in the hilariously comedic role of Brad Sloan, a late forties/early fifties father about to send his son off to college, but with a mind full of regrets and insecurity.
As Brad Sloan gets older, he gets more envious of the successes of his college buddies who have achieved certain degrees of fame and tremendous success in their respective careers. Brad’s career in the non-profit world is an admirable one, but not one with the same amount stardom or lucrative awards that his college friends Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen), Billy Wearsiter (Jemaine Clement), Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson), and Nick Pascale (Mike White) seem to enjoy everyday. As Brad takes his son Troy (Austin Abrams) on a college visitation trip in Boston, and things don’t go quite as planned, Brad becomes even more unglued as he tries to remedy the complications encountered during the trip. What begins as a time of encouragement and bonding between father and son becomes a bit of an eye-opener for Troy as he sees his father succumb to his inner crises.
Talented filmmaker Mike White (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl, Beatriz at Dinner) writes and makes his directorial debut with Brad’s Status, a riotously funny, insightful, and even earnest film about self-reflection and the insecurity that often comes from it. As seen through Brad Sloan’s eyes and mostly through his mind, audiences get to experience the character’s self-doubts, and get a glimpse into his sometimes wild imagination as he envisions the seemingly perfect lives of his old college friends. White offers an acerbic commentary on the sometimes, misguided priorities and goals of Americans, but does so with a dose of sharply-written comedy that embraces the absurdity of it all. Brad Sloan’s neuroses might be approaching the brink of a complete meltdown, but a major reality check from an unexpected source helps to put some things in perspective.
Ben Stiller offers what might be his finest performance here, as his character’s neurotic, anxious, and dissatisfied mind really drives the film. The writing, direction and Stiller’s superb acting make for a character study that is rather fascinating and often hilarious. It is definitely a character development that demands its audiences to self-reflect and take stock of the good in their lives and not focus so much on the negative aspects. Well, at least that’s how it affected me. Stiller and his movie son, Austin Abrams, perform well together with each offering the humorously appropriate responses to each other’s wildly different behavior. Abrams brings a casual coolness to his character that gets put to the test as the character’s father seems to be having a breakdown. The film also stars Jenna Fischer as Melanie, the loving mother and wife to Troy and Brad, and a character who seems much more comfortable in her life than her husband does. Michael Sheen offers a perfectly arrogant and self-involved turn as Brad’s old buddy Craig Fisher, a man who has become a famous writer and political commentator. I was also rather impressed with the performance of Shazi Raja as Troy’s friend Ananya, an intelligent and confident college student whom Brad meets during the trip and from whom he learns some valuable lessons.
Much like his script in Beatriz at Dinner, White’s script and direction in Brad’s Status hopes to teach some valuable lessons about the American experience by those not affected by poverty, but do so without being overly preachy. And though this film has a lot of the same messages, this one takes a more comedic approach and makes for a very entertaining trip to the cinema. Once again, Ben Stiller performs magnificently as yet another type of character going through a crisis of regret and aging. Maybe as he has found his niche in independent film with these excellent portrayals of self-pitying characters. Either way, if Stiller takes on another type of commiserating role with a talented writer and director attached, I will certainly look forward to what it has to offer.