(2017) (Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Dramedy: While helping his son check out various colleges, a middle-aged man reassesses his place in the world and life, all while comparing himself to former college classmates who've gone on to lives of fame and fortune.
- Brad Sloane (BEN STILLER) is a 47-year-old man who runs a non-profit in Sacramento where he lives with his wife, Melanie (JENNA FISCHER), and their son, Troy (AUSTIN ABRAMS), who's trying to decide where he should go to college. With Melanie needing to work, Brad and Troy fly to the East coast and begin touring various schools, all of which gets Brad thinking about his undergraduate days and the immense success some of his former classmates have achieved.
There's Craig Fisher (MICHAEL SHEEN), a former White House communications director who's now written books, is hired for speaking engagements and appears on various TV news shows. Billy Wearsiter (JEMAINE CLEMENT) sold a high-tech company and now lives in Hawaii with his two girlfriends, while Jason Hatfield (LUKE WILSON) runs a hedge fund and has his own jet. And Nick Pascale (MIKE WHITE) has become a famous movie director, all of which makes Brad feel as if he's underachieved in his post-college life.
While touring Harvard, he and Troy meet undergrad students Ananya (SHAZI RAJA) and Maya (LUISA LEE) who remind Brad of the days when he thought the world was his and thus left him filled with optimism and idealism about the future. As Troy continues with his tours, Brad must contend with the feelings all of this has dredged up in him.
- OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
- There's no doubt that social media platforms such as Facebook are great things in terms of connecting friends and family, updating them with important (and often not-so-important) events in one's life, and seeking help or guidance on any number of matters. But if there's one big drawback beyond its incredibly addictive nature, it's that most -- but not everyone's -- posts are of the "greatest hits" variety.
You see the happy kids, the new cars and houses, the dream vacations and -- if you follow certain people -- the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But you usually don't see the mundane, humdrum happenings or the ugly warts everyone has in their lives. Thus, many people get a skewed and usually only positive version of others and wonder why their lives can't be like those they see online.
For Brad Sloane, however, such "why can't I be..." thoughts don't stem from social media. Instead, they're being spawned by a midlife crisis. Whereas many men of his near half-century age compensate by going out and getting new cars -- or newer models of the opposite sex -- this 47-year-old man who runs a nonprofit that helps other non-profits is sinking in comparative quicksand and thoughts of "Is this all there is?" "Have I plateaued?" and "Why didn't my life turn out like..."
He's the protagonist played by Ben Stiller in "Brad's Status," a mostly satisfying but seemingly not quite fully formed dramedy that probably could have benefited by a few more rewrites by writer/director Mike White before committing the story to film.
There are some terrific parts, good performances, decent laughs and heartfelt moments, but at times I felt like it was just a rewritten draft or two away from being something truly profound and maybe even brilliant. As is stands, it's good, but might end up suffering from comparison envy to other offerings of its ilk that cover such material in better, cleverer and/or more imaginative ways.
The catalyst for the titular protagonist's life evaluation dilemma is that his son (a good Austin Abrams) is in the college selection phase of his life. With the mom (Jenna Fischer) busy with work, dear old dad travels with the high school senior to tour various colleges, including his alma mater. While some people would end up nostalgic and remember "the good old days," Brad contemplates where his young person idealism has gone, all while wondering why he didn't achieve anywhere near the level of success of his former classmates and college friends.
They're portrayed by Michael Sheen as a former politico turned successful author and TV news talking head; Jemaine Clement as a man who sold his high-tech company and retired to Hawaii where he lives with his two much younger girlfriends; Luke Wilson as a wealthy hedge fund manager with his own private jet; and White himself as a mega-successful movie director.
Aside from a scene near the end of the movie where Sheen's character meets Stiller's in person, there's little more than brief phone contact between the protagonist and his old friends. And thus most of Brad's impression of them and their success comes from some public knowledge, with the rest filled in by his "Why I'm such a failure" comparative thoughts and runaway rampant imagination of what their lives are like, sort of falling into that Facebook trap of seeing and reading about the greatest hits and then extrapolating from there.
White deploys a lot of voice-over narration to represent that (and his main character's mindset) and a few imagined scenes, but that's where I think the film could have really flourished had it been more imaginative and satirical in representing such out of control thoughts. A little of that is present, but the film could have benefited from going full out in that regard as well as more fully showing that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the college diploma fence.
There are nice moments, however, including ones between the father and son, but also between the middle-aged man and a college undergrad (Shazi Raja) who senses a kindred spirit in him, but ultimately does remind him that he's suffering from white male privilege and first world problems.
I'll admit that I found myself connected to the film -- being a 53-year-old who sometimes wonders if it's all downhill from here on out -- in ways that younger viewers probably won't appreciate at this point in their lives. But they probably eventually will, especially with social media and eventually a midlife crisis near guaranteed to make them one day reassess how they've done in keeping up with Joneses. Good when it might have been great, "Brad's Status" rates as a 6 out of 10.
Reviewed September 19, 2017 / Posted September 22, 2017
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