Director: Mike White
Screenwriter: Mike White
Cast: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jermaine Clement, Jenna Fischer, Shazi Raja
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/22/17
Opens: September 15, 2017
The way any movie is crafted makes it excellent, good, bad or indifferent. But regardless of craft, it’s safe to say that if you in the audience can identify strongly with the story and the characters, you’re going to be absorbed in the plot, perhaps even wishing that the people portrayed will have a good day. Of all the 150 films I’ve seen this year, “Brad’s Status” is the one with which I identify most in that the title character’s existential fantasy is that he’s a failure when compared with the people he knows or with whom he graduated. My own fascination with the plot is that I graduated from a top college and became “only” a high school teacher, while my best friends took loftier professions in medicine, dentistry law and accounting. One of the colleagues in this high school, call him Fred, graduated from Columbia University, an Ivy-League college. He regularly joked in a mordant way that when he went to a college reunion and told his old friends that he was a high-school teacher, they responded, “Come on, Fred, you always were a good joker. What do you really do?”
Happily, writer-director Mike White, whose métier is quirky movies like “Year of the Dog” in which a secretary’s life changes when her dog dies, is not so arty this time. In the more conventional story now, comedy turns regularly to affecting drama, giving Ben Stiller the chance to star in a more complex role that he had in such childish comedies as “Night at the Museum.” Stiller’s performance in “The Meyerowitz Stories” is more akin to what he is doing here.
Though Brad (Ben Stiller) is manager of a non-profit through which he is aware he is helping people, he is competitive—like most of us. He compares himself not to Bill Gates but to people in his circle, principally those in his classes at Tufts where he (like meat Tufts) majored in Government. He is a luckier guy than he realizes. He has an adorable, loving wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer—so charming on TV in “The Office”) and a whip-smart son Troy (Austin Abrams), who has a realistic chance for acceptance to Harvard given his talent in music.
He doesn’t measure up to those he knows from his college days, particularly Craig (Michael Sheen), a best-selling author with frequent TV appearances and fabulously wealthy. Nor can he match up to Jason (Luke Wilson), a hedge-fund manager whose company has its own jet; Nick (Mike White), a movie director who married his boyfriend; and Billy (Jermaine Clement) who retired early and is now, according to Brad’s fantasies, living in Maui with two gorgeous bikini-clad girlfriends.
Escorting his son Troy to a Harvard interview, he arrives in Boston (with Montreal standing in for Beantown) to discover there was a date mixup. The interview was scheduled for the day earlier, but Brad saves the day by using his contacts, particularly Craig, to allow his son to be interviewed the next day. In the most sensitive scene, Ananya (Shazi Raja), who knew Troy in high school and is now a Harvard student, hears Brad’s moans about his problems only to be told to wake up, that some people must deal with making two dollars a day and that he is guilty of white male privilege. “You have enough,” she retorts, and Brad takes her seriously, marking the beginning of his road to redemption.
The pace is brisk, the dialogue scintillating, the performances on target, all this from a movie that I would call under the radar so far as end-year awards go. It’s absolutely a must see for people who are generally comparing themselves to others because that’s the American way, and not a healthy attitude at all.
Rated R. 111 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-