Mid-Life Anxiety: Our Review of ‘Brad’s Status’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical, TIFF 2017 by - September 25, 2017
Mid-Life Anxiety: Our Review of ‘Brad’s Status’

It’s not at all easy for a film to get you to care about the generic problems of a white, well-off, middle-aged family man of considerable privilege, which is why, in part, Brad’s Status is a surprising treat. It also helps to have Ben Stiller as your lead, a man who is tremendous at awkward encounters, anxious humour, and a fair amount of emotional depth.

Brad’s Status follows Stiller’s character through a mini-crisis: it’s not a full blown meltdown, but instead a series of assorted musings on where he has been, what he’s done, and most significantly, how he stacks up against his college friends and contemporaries.

It’s a delicate balance and it’s pulled off effectively, mainly because the story pairs Brad with his 18-year-old son, a savvy and far more well-adjusted kid who acts as a stand-in for the viewer. Troy (Austin Abrams) is visiting colleges in the Northeast, and the first of many uncomfortable encounters comes at the airport when Brad tries, and fails, to secure a first class upgrade for what he wants to be a life-defining and indeed life-changing trip for the two of them. All along the way Troy tells his dad to relax, often asking him if everything is alright.

Of course, it’s not – even though it really is. Brad checks in with his old friends while in Cambridge to help his son get an advantage at Harvard: one of them Brad knows to be a successful political operative and power player in Washington (Michael Sheen), another is a rich businessman with a beautiful family (Luke Wilson), and the last a retired entrepreneur who lives in a big beach house with two girlfriends.

So Brad is jealous, for he lives in Sacramento with his wife (Jenna Fischer) doing important work for a non-profit. If the recent Ingrid Goes West was a story about millennial angst, envy, and need for attention, then Brad’s Status is the similar film for a different generation. Brad’s freak-outs are instead fantasies, and his desire for happiness in the present results in looking back on the past. It’s not middle-class anger or suburban boredom, but a wonder about what could have been and a desire to do and have more.

The most interesting part of this funny, lovely light drama comes as he chats up a couple college women just a few years older than his son. It involves nostalgia, idealism, and yes a couple fantasies that are more melancholic than they are creepy, but at one point Brad says to the effect of, well this is my life.  He too can have problems and maybe they’re not the most important, but the writing and direction of Mike White, paired with Stiller’s sympathetic performance, make him a character’s absolutely worth rooting for. And also worth understanding.

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.