Brad's Status Review
About two thirds of the way into Brad’s Status, after an hour of watching Brad (Ben Stiller) drag us through his mid-life crisis, we see him engaged in a deeply one-sided conversation with Ananya (Shazi Raja), a student friend of his son Troy (Austin Abrams). After hours spent talking at this young woman in the bar, she stops his flow to remind Brad his first world problems are not as bad as he believes them to be and that a little perspective wouldn’t go amiss. This small piece of dialogue is injected into the script to reflect what many audience members are no doubt thinking while listening to Brad drone on. What this self-aware get out clause doesn’t do is suddenly wave away how unjustifiable his moaning really is. Rather, it only adds to the two hours of monotony director Mike White forces upon those unlucky enough to pick out this film for viewing.
Working his way through a mid-life crisis on-screen is hardly a new turn for Ben Stiller. Anyone who has seen Greenberg, While We’re Young and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (up to a point) will recognise similar traits from characters that were far less punishing to listen to. Stiller plays this type of role well but isn’t helped on this occasion by a script lacking punch and any sense of wit. The writing struggles to find reasons as to why we should give a second thought to a man who runs his own business, lives in a nice suburban house, has a son on the verge of entering Harvard, and who could have the university fees paid for in full if his father-in-law passes away.
With his son about to leave the nest and begin a new stage of his life, Brad is reflecting on what he has achieved so far as a 47-year-old, comparing himself to successful old friends like Craig (Michael Sheen), Billy (Jemaine Clement) and Jason (Luke Wilson) who have all gone on to enjoy high-flying careers. We hear his inner thoughts while he travels around Boston universities with his son, constantly pestered by Stiller’s self-pitying voice over. Stiller is usually an actor who is easy to like, but when left isolated inside a character this nauseating and contemptible, even his natural charm can't avoid the wreckage created by the film around him.
Not even Ananya’s brief moment of clarity has any sort of effect on Brad’s level of smugness, with writer and director White ploughing ahead pleased that his privilege has been sufficiently addressed . There is a chance that it could work if Brad’s concerns were being mocked, or he was made to look foolish for his disproportionate thoughts, but this never once comes close to happening. There is nothing wrong with non-empathetic characters, of course, but at the very least we deserve to be engaged by an ego worth our time. Brad’s Status fails to manage even that, and the thoughts and concerns of its character become instantly forgettable the very moment they are aired.