UK Release Date: 30th April 2018
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: Mike White
Writer: Mike White
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Shazi Raja, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement
Synopsis: A status-obsessed father upset with his place in the world tries to pull strings with his high-profile friends in order to help his son get into Harvard, where he hopes to study music.
If you can get over the first hurdle presented by Brad’s Status, which is that it’s essentially a comfortably middle-class white man complaining about how his friends made it into the one percent and he didn’t, you will almost certainly stumble at its second, which is its oppressively bad script.
Fairly or not, context around movies matters, and the unedifying sight of a man moaning about his failings while he takes his son (Austin Abrams) on a tour around Harvard feels almost oppressive in its tone-deafness. This is particularly true in an era when many across the world, including in traditionally wealthy countries, struggle to make ends meet. Indeed, the first scene features Brad (Ben Stiller) in bed with his wife (Jenna Fischer), worrying that his kid and nieces and nephews will inherit her parents’ $2m fortune while he doesn’t. Accessibility and relatability is not present for all but a few people from the very get-go in this film, which searches for problems where there are few to be found.
That being said, despite the lack of any awareness, there is an interesting story to be told here about a man reaching a melancholic state in his life where he starts to question whether choices he made were the right ones, whether chances he missed were really that costly and what it’s like to constantly compare yourself to your friends. There is a relatability in that feeling of not quite having accomplished what others have and feeling jealous about it. However, this movie’s lack of ability to challenge this character’s privilege is a glaring omission that makes you resent, rather than empathise with, Stiller’s character.
One scene in the movie attempts to do this, but the supporting character is readily dismissed, and Brad only begins to see joy in the world as he learns the friends he envies have drug addictions, ill children or are sexist and casually homophobic. It doesn’t help, as well, that writer-director Mike White, best known for penning School of Rock, spends the movie frequenting the well reserved for filmmakers unable to communicate their ideas – the voice-over.
Indeed, so oppressive is the voice-over in Brad’s Status that it’s hard to think of anything else while watching it. Stiller’s attempts at a nuanced performance are swamped by his own voice interrupting moments of quiet reflection to tell you that it’s a moment of quiet reflection. So doubt-filled is White in his own performers and ability to direct that he won’t just let the film speak for itself. He has to speak for it, explaining every beat as if the movie is far more complex than it is. Indeed, the movie’s one standout moment is just Stiller sat on a bench looking outwards. He doesn’t speak; he just emotes and considers the world around him – and that tells you everything you need to know.
Tone-deaf or not, this movie tries to be about accessible emotions and that feeling of looking back on a world that might have passed you by and feeling some loss for it. However, it’s so obsessed with spelling out every tiny element of this story that it never allows the audience to experience it for themselves.
None available for review.
Pop or Poop?
Mike White is like a deer caught in the headlights of movie directing in Brad’s Status. It’s a film with an interesting central conceit, but one that never meaningfully criticises its protagonist – a man with very little self-awareness and sense of perspective. Ben Stiller tries his best, but there’s only so much you can do to rescue a script this bad – particularly given the obsession with voice-over.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Brad’s Status is available on DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Vertigo Releasing.