As film festivals have wound down I wanted to get a glimpse at a film that truly captured my attention from early previews and its interesting premise. That film is “Brad’s Status”, a Ben Stiller lead production penned and directed by modern filmmaking great Mike White that focuses on the subjects of the true meaning of white privilege and what it really means to live a successful life. With strong performances, a focused story, and an avoidance of over-the-top tropes with some great relatable laughs mixed in, this dramedy is certainly worth a look and just might make you think twice the next time you’re having self-doubts about your choices in life.
“Brad’s Status” stars Ben Stiller as the titular Brad Sloan, the founder of a non-profit whose college friends have all gone on to live successful lives earning loads of cash and enjoying the benefits of lavish living while he has settled for his middle class life. As he prepares to visit Boston with his son Troy, played by Austin Abrams of “The Walking Dead” fame, to seek out Troy’s future college choice Brad experiences a mid-life crisis and begins to doubt the value of the life he has put together when looking at the successes of his former college buddies. Over the course of the film Brad struggles with thoughts of what could have been and what might be if his son were to be more successful and imagines himself in the shoes of his four college comrades while trying to come to peace with the life he has lived. Eventually he is forced to come face to face with his own privileged perspective and ego and learn lessons about how great his simple life truly is.
“Brad’s Status” might come off as a bit heavy handed, but it’s actually worth a look. The film is a simple, stripped down story with the focus squarely on Brad’s mindset and perspective. Circumstances put him in a position of having to reach out to his former friends to help his son have an opportunity at Harvard, and in the process he has to come to peace with the realities of his simple existence when compared to the heavy success of his friends. While Brad lives a normal middle-class life keeping his own non-profit afloat and married to a loving and care-free wife (played by Jenna Fischer), he sees the pretty women and private planes and piles of money his old friends enjoy as the true meaning of success. At times Brad’s complaining and fantasizing about what could have been come off as annoying and other times you can’t help but understand his longing for a more successful result to his existence, but either way we’ve all been or will be in Brad’s shoes some day and this movie serves as a tasteful representation of the struggle every single person, especially white males, will face when they compare themselves to those around them in time.
And that kind of brings me to the general crux of this film, a concept that would no doubt create some frustration and anger in the hearts and minds of many fragile male egos who would watch this film. Personally I’m not much of a social justice warrior. I feel for their fight and appreciate their dedication, but I’m not going to join in the picket lines. I like my own little existence, but that simple existence has occasionally given me a pretty shallow perspective of the expectations set upon me by the world. The funny thing is, I only had that revelation in full after watching this movie. “Brad’s Status” tackles the concept of white male privilege head on, but it does it in a way that doesn’t demonize the race or gender, but rather serves as a well needed slap in the face for anyone in Brad’s situation. Brad is forced to come to grips with the fact that when compared to the rest of the world he’s doing just fine. He has food on his plate, love in his home, and a successful self-made company. But even he admits that his perspective is that you are judged by your comparison to those directly associated with you. In his eyes that’s the four white men he went to college with. It actually takes a youthful perspective to show him that this, in essence, is the core problem with white privilege. He compares himself to other successful white men and believes he deserves better and that it’s these lives he should strive to be, but there are those below him, white or otherwise, who would love to have his life. It seems like a cliché, but it’s one we don’t hear enough in film and one that is seldom presented in such an effective and memorable manner to actually leave a mark on anyone willing to embrace it.
Props to Ben Stiller for producing a memorable performance worthy of acclamation here. Stiller stars as the titular Brad and has to embrace the persona and mental status of a man who believes the world owes him or that he should have strived for better to spite the great things about his simple life. Let’s face it, it’s hard to imagine anyone in Hollywood having and level of understanding about what it’s like to be a middle-class man going through a mid-life crisis. Stiller however creates a believable struggle in his character, going in and out of fantasies that are brutally honest and, at times, cringe worthy and hilarious that represent doubt in his existence balanced with an appreciation for what he has. In other words Stiller shows us a man who wants more, but also loves what he has in his life. He knows having more would hurt those who have been a big part of his life, but he can’t help but want that better, more luxurious life he sees in his old friends. It makes Brad a very layered and honestly delightfully frustrating person to watch. We all look at him and say “your life is great, why would you want more?”, but when you take a step back most of us have probably, or currently are, dealing with the same insecurities and struggles as we strive for the American dream. Whether or not Stiller has experienced this kind of hurt is irrelevant, it’s that he can bring out this struggle in Brad that makes this performance so memorable.
Brad’s son Troy is played by Austin Abrams who embraces a magnetic chemistry with Stiller to create a truly charming father-son due free of the typical forced conflict clichés movies of this kind often bring about. Yes they have their bickering moments, but they never go too far and are rooted mostly in Brad’s self-doubt than Troy’s personality. Troy, for the most part, is a flawed but acceptably normal teenager unsure of his future, but with a relaxed outlook on life. He’s oblivious to the inner struggle his father is facing and only sees a man who has been a role model and mentor to him, something that comes into play as the movie progresses. Most of all Troy is a typical millennial, but not the over-the-top cliché that has created countless inaccurate ageist memes on social media. A true millennial. A young man whose perspective on the world is much more mature at a younger age than his father’s is near the age of 50. Troy is unaffected by thoughts of what could have been or might be. He just wants to find success and be happy and, to that end, Abrams gives us a young man who may actually be more mature and grounded than his own father. It’s an interesting comparison that drives the film forward and even plays into some of Brad’s inner conflicts while also speaking to an interesting, and very real, generation gap that parents and children face today.
To top everything off this movie is actually funny. There are no forced moments of hilarity and levity, it all seems natural and Stiller and White managed to create a project that balances humor and emotion very effectively. From start to finish we get great moments of natural levity, believable comedy in real life situations that don’t overshadow the deeper emotion behind the scene. This makes for a movie experience we can laugh at one moment, gawk at in the next moment, and reflect on the next. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and shows respect to its audience that they can enjoy the funny parts while appreciating the deeper themes the film has to offer. It’s a very complete emotional ride that offers a little something for everyone all wrapped in a brutally honest message about appreciating where you are in YOUR life, not others’ lives, and understanding that happiness is not based on position, money, and luxuries but the legacy you leave with those most important to you personally.
“Brad’s Status” does have some sore spots, like some questionable pacing and a pretty abrupt conclusion as well as at least one heavy-handed scene featuring Luke Wilson that felt a bit out of place, but it’s a well-made film none the less that has something powerful and blunt to say and it succeeds. Yes, this movie does present the realities of white privilege, but it might not be quite as hard a lesson to learn as you might think. Given the chance, “Brad’s Status” is a great ride that takes you into the mind of a man struggling to come to grips with the life he has led and learns, as we all should at one point or another, to enjoy the ride he’s on rather than wishing to be on someone else’s roller coaster. It’s a classic message seldom presented with such taste and careful detail as it is here. Whether you like it or not, this movie delves into some harsh truths about ego and self-righteousness but it balances it well with effective comedic moments and relatable storytelling that makes it a complete package.