Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Director – Mike White
Writer – Mike White
Cast – Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Michael Sheen, Jenna Fischer and Luke Wilson
Plot – Middle-class American Brad Sloan (Stiller) owns a non-profit organisation and lives a comfortable life with his wife (Fischer) and son (Abrams) however the successes of his old college buddies begins to weigh on him and as he tours college campuses with his son he contemplates the life he may have led had he been more ambitious in pursuit of money.
In 2018, the very concept of Mike White’s film feels slightly poorly timed; middle-aged white man Brad laments being less successful than his former college peers who are now in the wealthy one per cent (among others, Sheen’s Craig Fisher is a White House Chief of Staff, Wilson’s Jason owns a hedge fund company) . Especially after recent political movements have highlighted the gulf in representation across a spectrum of industries, it is initially very difficult to empathise with a character that has likely benefited from ‘white man privilege’.
But Brad is mostly likeable enough that the film doesn’t simply derail into a maddening series of vignettes showing what life could have been like had he been less selfless (though, they are present too).
The comedy/drama label is also slightly misleading considering there are few obvious comic beats and even the drama is relatively light. Brad’s internal struggle with his own happiness (voiced through Stiller’s narration) is the framework for the plot and the main enjoyment comes from the exploration of his relationship with his son, Troy. Still naïve and lacking in confidence, Troy is looking to make a career in music and Brad joins him as they tour the East Coast of American university campuses. Brad not only reconnects with Troy but also the lost sense of adventure and energy he used to have in life when he was in his college years before settling down.
It’s a film which, ultimately, focuses on a man’s mid-life crisis but at least makes him engaging enough to follow. Stiller is entirely relatable and does well to restrain it from being a showy performance. The theme of self-worth permeates and Brad’s constant niggling, self-doubts will either resonate or alienate, but as an exploration of what it means to be successful in life, Brad’s Status is a light-hearted, acutely observed and enjoyable watch.