UK Release Date: 5th January 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.
Voiceover is one of the most divisive cinematic techniques. Some consider it to be a lazy way to deliver exposition in a clear decision to flout the ‘show, don’t tell’ axiom of filmmaking, while others say it allows a unique journey into the mind of a character. Where you stand on that debate will likely decide whether or not you like Brad’s Status, which sees Ben Stiller deliver another of his recent semi-dramatic roles – this time for School of Rock writer Mike White rather than Noah Baumbach. By the time the credits roll on this two hours of pretentious twaddle, you’ll want Baumbach to wrap Stiller up in cotton wool and keep him to himself.
Brad’s Status is a film about a man obsessed with his position in society. It’s an indulgent journey into the soul of a relatively wealthy middle-class bloke, who is upset about not being a multi-millionaire in the same way as his college friends. White and Stiller ask their audience to feel sympathy for this man, who has been blessed with a lovely life, but is too trapped inside of his own head to notice.
That man is Brad (Stiller), who runs a non-profit organisation and lives with wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer). Brad takes his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to Massachusetts in order to look at potential colleges, including Harvard and Brad’s alma mater of Tufts University. When the interview goes awry, Brad decides to grease the wheels by phoning old friend Craig (Michael Sheen), who is a visiting professor at the college alongside his work as a TV politics pundit.
Watching Brad’s Status is like wading through the sludgy grey matter of the attendees at a middle class dinner party. Stiller’s character worries almost solely about how he is seen by those on a higher class level than him and the film only makes vague gestures towards challenging this. White plunges his audience into Stiller’s committed, neurotic performance and the actor doesn’t bring nearly enough nuance to make this work. Indeed, when Shazi Raja‘s socially-conscious student becomes the only character to question Stiller’s self-obsession, in the film’s most interesting scene, she is shunted off camera for the remainder of the movie.
White’s story wanders slowly through a world of immense privilege, pausing only for Stiller to swerve wildly into pretentious, self-important voiceover at every possible opportunity. His relationship with his son, played by Austin Abrams as the most gormless potential Harvard student in history, is unconvincing and implausible, with Abrams only occasionally calling out his father for his excruciating obsession with those around him.
This miserable movie is a sad nadir of Stiller’s current career phase, where he exclusively plays neurotic middle class fathers. It makes you long for the days when Stiller was playing wacky comedy caricatures and Mike White was writing School of Rock, rather than working on dreck like The Emoji Movie and Pitch Perfect 3. Perhaps the only saving grace of Brad’s Status is Michael Sheen, as a slimy TV talking head. He can do smug and loathsome in his sleep.
Pop or Poop?
The year has its first big screen stinker with Brad’s Status, which is an indulgent journey through the psyche of a loathsome character. Not only that, but it’s a character the film never really condemns for his dismal obsession with having slightly more money than he already has. Boo bloody hoo.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.