Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Shazi Raja, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson
Director: Mike White
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Rating: R for A Few Disconcertingly Random F-Bombs
Release Date: September 15, 2017 (Limited)
Generally when writing a review, I avoid discussing issues of representation. That is not to say that that topic should not be avoided entirely, just that a review is not the ideal place for it. I believe that all stories are worth telling and need to be accepted on their own terms to truly understand them. But occasionally, representation is a focal theme in the stories that make it to the big screen, and in those cases, it would be imprudent to ignore it. Brad’s Status is one such movie.
In the most compelling possible interpretation, Brad’s Status is a horror film about extreme middle class neurosis. The score is filled with foreboding strings and heavy piano that contrast but also simultaneously complement the reliably blue skies. Brad Sloan’s (Ben Stiller) life probably should not be as intensely overwhelming as it is, but the status-conscious brain is a universe unto itself.
Brad’s existential crisis coincides with a college tour for his son Troy (Austin Abrams), who is smart enough to potentially get into Harvard but is uncertain enough about his future such that he doesn’t remember the correct date for his admissions interview. Staying on top of your kids during the college search is stressful enough, but on top of all that, Brad is deeply burdened by questions of how his success measures up with the rest of the world. When he thinks of his own college buddies he has lost touch with, he inevitably frets over how they have all exceeded him in terms of material wealth and influence. He remembers his own young adult idealism, and how his plans to change the world have not really borne fruit, even though he now runs his own nonprofit.
If this all sounds like White Straight Cisgender Male First World Problems: The Movie to you, it is worth noting that Brad’s privilege to complain as much as he does is called out quite searingly and clear-headedly by a female POC character. This is crucial, and effective. Those who are looking for more diverse representation in their films might reasonably say, “Sure, Brad’s Status takes white male bullshit to task, but it’s still about the white male bullshitter.” To which I would respond, I’m pretty sure this movie agrees with your sentiment and might in a weird way want you to dismiss it.
Regardless of how it works in terms of representation, Brad’s Status is an enlightening dramatization of the dangers of assumption, especially when you assume the best AND the worst. Chances are that your successful friends’ lives are not as picture-perfect as they seem. And chances are that they are not completely the opposite either. But you’ll never know either way unless you reach out and listen. Unfortunately for Brad, even when he does reach out, living inside his own head remains impossible to escape.
Brad’s Status is Recommended If You Like: Mad Men, Enlightened, White Male Navel Gazing, Criticism of White Male Navel Gazing
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Silver Flyer Cards