There’s a sense of anticipation in Mike White’s Brad’s Status, one that unfortunately is never realized. The writer/director’s previous films – among them The Good Girl, School of Rock, Year of the Dog and Beatriz at Dinner – all showed a sense of inventiveness, humor or a willingness to deviate from the norm. As such, as White takes us down an all too familiar narrative road with Status, I was expecting some sort of out-of-left field moment to occur that would deviate from the norm and provide an intriguing twist. Alas, much to my disappointment, the film contains no surprises, providing the viewer with a predictable, yet well-acted story.
Like most of us, Brad (Ben Stiller) is his own worst enemy when it comes to self-evaluation. On the eve of taking his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to Boston so that he might tour Harvard and Tufts universities, he starts to compare himself to his peers who he attended college with. Craig (Michael Sheen) is a political advisor and best-selling author; Billy (Jermaine Clement) sold an Internet start-up for millions and is living in the lap of luxury on his own desert island; Nick (White) is a successful Hollywood director and Jason (Luke Wilson) has made millions with a hedge fund. As for Brad…well he runs a modest non-profit corporation and in comparing himself with his well-heeled friends, sees himself as a failure. With the specter of having to pay an Ivy League tuition hanging over his head, his worries only increase.
Much of the film is made up of Brad’s sad sack inner monologues in which we hear him lament over his lack of opportunities or opine that perhaps his easy-to-please wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) made him settle for less or go on mini rants of jealousy over his friends’ success. Stiller does all of this very well, as much of his career has been built on characters riddled with angst or self-pity. That he goes about it here in a more effective, less-manic way can be attributed to age and White’s direction.
Actually, there are times when the film is very effective, particularly when Brad comes to see that his friends’ success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be as well as the quiet moments he spends with his son. These scenes of quiet admissions of affection are where the film shines and would have benefitted from more of them. As it is, Brad’s Status is a pleasant enough movie that gets by on stating the obvious. Had White and his cast strayed from the norm, then they might have had something special.