Brad’s Status Review

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Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) has a loving wife and a talented, music-loving son. But he’s fuelled by envy, anger and self-loathing, all of which come to the boil during a visit to Harvard University.

by Nick De Semlyen |
Published on
Release Date:

05 Jan 2018

Original Title:

Brad’s Status

You could fill a very large sack with all of the sadsacks played by Ben Stiller over the past two decades. From Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums to Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, via The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and Flirting With Disaster, the star has found a groove playing neurotic, tightly coiled middle-aged men trying to get to grips with the meaning of life. Brad’s Status continues the trend — writer-director Mike White’s other 2017 job was punching up the script for The Emoji Movie, and if this drama was an emoticon it would be one with a particularly forlorn yellow face.

Sadly, it’s only intermittently as poignant and thought-provoking as it thinks it is. There are some excellent scenes and strong supporting turns, but it’s a lesser Stiller-starrer, which is likely to test your endurance levels for the sight of privileged people moping.

It's only intermittently as poignant and thought-provoking as it thinks it is.

The movie was inspired by White’s relationship with his father, and the meat of it involves Brad heading to Harvard with his 17-year-old son Troy (Austin Abrams), who is hoping for a future as a musician. Rather than rooting his progeny on, our hyper-tense hero is constantly fretting about how he is perceived by other people, whether it’s two attractive college girls the pair encounter or his old friends. One scene sees him scrolling miserably through other people’s Instagram photos. Another has him worrying that the unconditional love of his delightful wife (Jenna Fischer) has made him soft: “Maybe her contentment undermined my ambition.” For 140 minutes, you’re trapped inside the

head of a man who is, quite frankly, absolutely maddening.

But for the most part his extreme narcissism is handled interestingly by White. Rather than being played for laughs, Curb Your Enthusiasm-style, Brad’s neuroses are something the character is trying desperately to overcome. His struggle to acquire contentment is portrayed via quick-flash, Walter Mitty-esque fantasy sequences, imagining his acquaintances all swanning about on private jets, tanned and happy, in contrast to his own drab existence. Less engaging is the multitude of voiceover that Stiller delivers; so wall-to-wall is it that you start to wonder if the actor spent more time in a recording booth than on the set.

By design, Brad is a beige man, so thank goodness for the clutch of vivid cameos from the supporting cast. Michael Sheen is all neatly snipped beard and smarmy grin as an old buddy who has become a celebrity for his role advising the White House. Even better is Jemaine Clement as a super-obnoxious dotcom millionaire who has retired to Hawaii, has two girlfriends and is more than happy to share details of his sex life. “We surf, then we fuck, then we surf,” he drawls at Brad over the phone, a complete asshole but a highly entertaining one. Billy’s Status: we would watch it.

A droll and vigorous psychological study of an everyday egomaniac, but we’ve seen Stiller do this sort of thing before, and better.
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