Going through the 34th year of my life at present, I sometimes wonder whether I am fine with my current status. While I recently managed to settle on a modest but stable job after several years of personal confusion and difficulty, I often cannot help but think of the time which irreversibly passed by me during last 17 years, and I feel regretful and anxious as reflecting on the fact that I already spent more than a third of my possible life span. Could have I done better than this? And am I really all right with where my life is going?
That is why I was amused and touched by a similar type of anxiety and discontent observed from the hero of “Brad’s Status”. Although he is different from me in many aspects besides being more than 10 years older than me, his thoughts and feelings are not alien to me at all, and I constantly got small laughs thanks to several sharp, honest moments in the film. While he often looks silly and pathetic, we come to emphasize with him as understanding his insecurity and frustration, and the movie is also supported well by an engaging performance from its talented lead performer.
Ben Stiller, who has always been good at playing insecure characters with human flaws, plays Brad Sloan, a fortyish guy who has led your average middle-class American life with his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and their teenager son Troy (Austin Abrams). While Brad runs a non-profit organization, Melanie has been prominent in her academic field, and Troy is preparing himself for college enrollment as going through his last high school year.
Troy wants to go to Harvard University, so he and Brad fly to Boston for visiting not only Harvard but also Brad’s alma mater, which can be the second option if Troy is not accepted by Harvard. For having a good time with his son, Brad tries as much as he can do, but then things do not go as well as he wishes. He experiences a rather embarrassing moment when he tries to change their original plane tickets with the ones for business class, and then there comes a little complication when they go to Harvard on the next day.
However, it looks like that problem can be solved via Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen), who was one of Brad’s close schoolmates during their college years and is also a visiting professor in Harvard besides being a famous author with a considerable career. Although it has been several years since they met each other for the last time, Fischer instantly agrees to give a little help to his old friend, and Brad is certainly happy for that.
However, he feels unhappy as thinking more about how Fisher and other three college friends look more successful than him. While Billy Wearsiter (Jemaine Clement) is enjoying his early retirement after selling his lucrative IT company, Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson) is a hotshot hedge fund manager of Wall Street, and he is also married to a rich woman who probably gives her husband more clients. In case of Nick Pascale (Mike White), he has been a successful filmmaker working in Hollywood, and Brad feels hurt when he comes to learn that he was not invited to Nick’s recent wedding.
Brad gets some consolation from how Troy grows up well as a good son, but then he cannot help but be envious of what may lie ahead in his son’s future, and we get an amusing scene as Brad imagines how he will be regarded by his son in the future. Will he be proudly remembered by his son? Or will he be simply ignored?
Of course, the movie later goes through a predictable turn as Brad comes to realize that his old friends are not as successful as they look on the surface, but the screenplay by director/writer Mike White, who previously wrote the screenplays for “Orange County” (2000) and “School of Rock” (2003), keeps providing amusing scenes coupled with keen insights. As directly pointed out by one of supporting characters in the movie at one point, Brad is actually not as miserable as he believes, and the movie also recognizes how privileged he really is compared to many other people around the world. After all, he is a first-world citizen who is also a middle-class white male, isn’t he?
Nevertheless, we come to care about Brad’s bumpy situation as the movie depicts it with honesty and perceptiveness, and Ben Stiller deftly goes back and forth between drama and comedy in his nuanced performance. While I still remember well his many hysterically funny scenes in “There’s Something About Mary” (1997), Stiller has recently shown his more serious sides via a number of notable films including “Greenberg” (2010) and “While We’re Young” (2014), and the movie shows us again that he is always effective whenever he plays an everyman who tries a little too hard at times.
The supporting performers surrounding Stiller are also fine on the whole. While Austin Abrams is convincing in his scenes with Stiller, Jenna Fischer brings some warmth to what could have been a thankless role, and Shazi Raja has her own moment when her character happens to spend some hours with Brad. Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, and Michael Sheen are all suitably cast in their small supporting roles, and Sheen ably exudes his character’s loftiness during his scene with Stiller.
Overall, “Brad’s Status” is a small but funny character comedy drama film, and I enjoyed its humor and insights as reflecting again on my life. Sure, I am not as successful as I once hoped, but I have been lucky in many aspects, and I am doing what I like at this very moment thanks to that. At least for now, that’s all right for me.