Brad's Status: Ben Stiller Crawls Out Of Another Mid-Life Crisis
Review by Aaron Haughton
Brad's Status is the latest film written and directed by Mike White and stars Ben Stiller in yet another mid-life crisis role. The film centers on Brad (Stiller) as he takes his son, Troy (played by Austin Abrams), to tour some elite colleges. This landmark event in his son's life causes Brad to reconsider the events of his own life and how he ended up where he did, in the upper middle class instead of the wealthy aristocracy like his college chums. Feeling unfulfilled with his life and mulling over where exactly it all went wrong, Brad may just find the answer he's looking for as he courts his son around his old East Coast collegiate stomping grounds.
There are a few things that you realize within the first couple of minutes of the film. One is that the writing relies a little too heavily on the voiceover approach, which it continues to lean on throughout the course of the film (in sometimes effective, but mostly ineffective ways). Another is that it's going to be filled with a lot of moan-and-groan, white-male-privilege, 1st-world problems. The other is that the conclusion is obvious and dangling in plain sight.
The voiceover approach is the lesser of the evils, and it helps to carry the story (as VO tends to do), but also succeeds in placing us squarely into the head of our protagonist (think Taxi Driver, but not as good, groundbreaking or edgy), plunging us into Brad's foolish inner monologue, filled with his worry and strife, no matter how vapid and trite they may be, which are disproportionately counterbalanced by his vague, semi-poetic musings. The voiceover often leads to some of the more notable comedic moments -- the best of which features a child snorting cocaine on a private jet. The narration and accompanying visuals portray the delusional reality that Brad believes is the earnest truth. The narration ends up being one of the weaker story elements, but adds a layer of reliability to Brad's character, as nearly all of us live in the made up confines of our own distorted thinking. Although, the white male jejune cognition will likely turn off some viewers.
While the narrative can be a bit frustrating, White's writing isn't as banal as it may first appear. In a lot of ways, the film is a wake up call to everyone who lives too frequently in their head, a warning to those who worry and stress over the trivial, which, let's face it, is pretty much all of us. Whether you've had the same thoughts or worry as Brad or not, we still construct elaborate illusions in our head that can turn into discontentment if we don't remain grounded, and I think that's primarily what the story's about; a man who lives in his head and slowly floats back to reality.
One of the more refreshing parts of the film was White's choice to go with the R rating, as opposed to taking the broader audience reach with a PG-13 rating, which was well within it's reach. In the spectrum of R-rated films, Brad's Status is a light R for language, which isn't used in excess. In fact, I rather liked White's use of language in the film because it's used sparingly and in everyday ways. It helps make the characters feel a little more real and doesn't rely on excessive language or vulgarity as a source of its comedy.
White's directorial efforts come across as somewhat lazy, favoring the handheld camera. The camerawork isn't overly shaky or too distracting, but even simple exterior shots are filmed without stability. In retrospect, the handheld approach ends up being a conscious and thought out stylistic choice, but like the voiceover, it lands and misses. The entirety of the film is directed with a slight stagger with the exception of a classical concert, which is partially directed using a large crane or dolly. The change in stylistic choice serves to show the sudden stability of Brad's rationale, which has otherwise been wobbly.
The acting in the film is pretty good, and the film sports an excellent cast, including Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Jermaine Clement, and Luke Wilson; however, the true show stealer was Austin Abrams who plays Brad's son Troy. Abrams is very honest and sincere in his portrayal, which may come easy due to his relatively young age, but still a very notable performance. The chemistry between Abrams and Stiller was apparent, and it seemed like the two fed well off one another. Stiller is the same as he ever was, playing Brad as mashup of Meet the Fockers and The Secret Life of Walter Smitty.
Overall, the film manages to be enjoyable, despite its primary subject matter. It won't likely serve as a crowd pleaser to the younger generation, but will probably find its mark with married couples who've recently shooed a little birdie out from their nest. The film releases this Friday (9/15/17) in limited theaters and would serve as an enjoyable matinee for someone with 90 minutes to kill or a conversation starter for a play-it-safe date film.
Rating: 3 mid-life crises outta 5.
What do you think? Are you interested in checking out Brad's Status? Do you think Ben Stiller should have the whole mid-life crisis sorted at this juncture? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!