One usually associates Ben Stiller with silly, raucous comedies. And though "Brad's Status" is billed as a comedy, it is actually a serious look at one man's self-evaluation of his life, peppered with humorous moments.
Brad Sloan (Stiller) can't sleep. In the morning, he and his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), are embarking on the requisite "college tour" --- heading off to Boston. Brad himself is a graduate of Tufts University, but due to his wife Melanie's (Jenna Fischer) employment, the family has settled in Sacramento. She works for the government and Brad started a not-for-profit business.
Their life is comfortable, but not nearly as successful and glamorous as the lives led by his four best friends from college. Jason (Luke Wilson) is a fabulously wealthy hedge fund guy with his own jet. Billy (Jemaine Clement) is a tech genius who sold his business at 40 and retired to Hawaii with a bevy of girlfriends. Nick (Mike White) is a famous Hollywood director whose luxurious home in Malibu was just featured in "Architectural Digest". And Craig (Michael Sheen) is a political pundit and TV personality with several books to his name.
As Brad looks back on his life and the choices he's made, he questions all of his decisions, and what he could have/should have done differently. He's consumed with envy and doubts --- to the point that Troy asks if he's having a nervous breakdown.
Brad firmly believes that everyone has a better life than he. In trying to reach Craig through Jason and Billy, he begins to learn the truth behind the "successes" of his former classmates.
There's a lesson here for all of us. Writer/director Mike White --- yes, the same person who plays Nick --- wrote "Brad's Status" for his own father. According to White, his father feels he's "never lived up to his expectations for himself". So White wants him to know that he thinks his father is a success --- and that he loves him.
Watching Brad and Troy's relationship play out on screen is remarkable. There are many awkward moments, as one would expect when a father and teen-age son embark on such a momentous excursion. Brad wants to show he can be the BMOC
(Big Man on Campus), and Troy just wants his dad to fade into the sunset --- some of the time.
Stiller and Abrams come together as father and son with the right energy and amazingly believable chemistry. White's writing helps immensely, but these two actors perform marvelously as family. Abrams, especially, is so perfect as a 17-year-old living through this confusing, yet exhilarating experience. There are no missteps on his part.
Sheen always turns in a terrific performance. He exudes just the right amount of arrogance and phoniness associated with his character. Craig is quite a jerk --- and we love Sheen for it.
Another standout in the cast is Shazi Raja who stars as Troy's friend, Ananya, a student at Harvard where Troy has applied. White wrote this part for a beautiful Indian-American actress who had to play the flute. Raja is gifted on all accounts, so much so that she stole her scenes with Stiller. Watch for her --- she's got a great future.
"Brad's Status" is a truly entertaining film. There are a few cringe-worthy scenes, but it is not a straight comedy. Instead, it is a poignant study of what truly matters in life.
Opinion: See It Now!
Ben Stiller is perfectly cast in Mike White's new movie, "Brad's Status", and for that reason, Stiller's fan base may be a bit disappointed. Although the film has been billed as a comedy, it really is far from it. It's more of an up-close-and-personal study of an insecure, close-to-dysfunctional individual --- how he perceives his own worth, and what meaning his life has. Actually, Brad is a bit of a schlemiel (Yiddish for bungler).
Brad Sloan (Stiller), founder of a non-profit organization, is evaluating his own life by reminiscing about four college buddies whom he hasn't had contact with for some time. Jason (Luke Wilson) is a wildly successful hedge fund founder; Billy (Jemaine Clement) is a 40-year-old retired techie living with two beautiful women on his Hawaiian estate; and Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen) is a world famous author.
Brad feels further alienated from his old friends when he learns that he was not invited to the wedding of the fourth friend, Nick (played without dialogue by writer/director Mike White). As the story moves along, we really get to know Brad when he accompanies his son, Troy (Austin Abrams) on a college visitation trip to Boston. Troy is musically gifted, so in Brad's mind it's just a question of when, not if, his son will be accepted into Harvard. They also visit Tufts University, Brad's alma mater, and prestigious in its own right. But Troy is clearly focused on Harvard.
Brad will do anything to help his son, even to the point of embarrassing him. The only false note in "Brad's Status" occurs when Brad promises Troy an upgrade to business class on the flight from Sacramento to Boston. Despite the hefty $1600 price tag, especially in light of Brad's admittedly modest income, he still presents his credit card to the airline employee, which is declined.
"Brad's Status" is exceedingly well written. White's previous writing credits include such diverse films as "School of Rock" and "The Good Girl", so his solid script here is no surprise. It's the kind of story where we can't wait to see what happens next. The characters are all deeply drawn, and the entire cast excels, especially Stiller, Abrams and Sheen.
The 21-year-old Abrams plays Troy exactly as you would expect --- a high school junior checking out colleges with his dad. We first meet Troy smooching his pet bulldog, so we know from the start the kid's heart is in the right place.
Troy is low key, not overly effusive, and worried that his father's zealous efforts to help him will ultimately cause him grief for four years. The scene at Harvard with Brad attempting to convince an admissions officer to see Troy after he missed the original appointment is painful to watch, yet many parents may relate to the episode.
Later Troy introduces his father to a couple of Harvard co-eds, most notably Ananya (Shazi Raja), a beautiful Indian-American girl who happens to be a fabulous flutist. Her friend Maya (Luisa Lee) is a violinist, and the two of them play as lead performers in a concert that reduces Brad to tears. It's a wonderfully poignant scene in the film.
Much of "Brad's Status" features Stiller doing the narrative voice over, so we are never at a loss as to what Brad is thinking. And Stiller is in practically every frame of the movie. Yet we never tire of watching his antics when things don't always go his way. Brad's restaurant scene with Craig is compelling, and Sheen, in a perfect American accent, nails the dialogue.
Throughout their trip, Brad keeps in touch with his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer). They have a good relationship, so it appear Brad's life is a fulfilled one. Yet he still harbors envy, or even resentment, towards his more successful friends from his past. That is partially dispelled, however, when he speaks to Jason and learns he is totally distraught -- a major health issue with his little girl.
"Brad's Status" boasts a well-conceived script--- I actually did not want the movie to end. Some things are left unresolved. One thing is not in doubt: Stiller renders a remarkable performance --- subtle, thoughtful and sympathetic, but never pathetic, silly or incongruous.
Opinion: See It Now!