Brad’s Status

Ben Stiller in Brad's Status. (Ster-Kinekor)
Ben Stiller in Brad's Status. (Ster-Kinekor)


2/5 Stars


While taking his teenage son on a tour of potential colleges, Brad Sloan is forced to confront the current state of his own life and the decisions that led him there.


I hate to once again knock the work of the writer of one of the greatest family films ever, School of Rock, but after Mike White failed to deliver the goods with the simultaneously overwrought and obvious Beatriz at Dinner, he once again brings us an “indie-spirited” film that never manages to transcend its familiar “mid-life-crisis dramedy” trappings. 

Taking both the director's chair and sole credit for the script, White is clearly talented enough to put together a proficient enough bit of small-scale filmmaking that just about passes the time but is nowhere near funny enough, profound enough or moving enough to work as anything but a reminder of better films. 

It also doesn't help that, despite a very good cast (it's always great to see the Office's Jenna Fischer, no matter how small the role), the characters constantly grate. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with characters who are significantly behind the audience in understanding both their own failings and blind spots towards others but, rightly or wrongly, Brad's Status treats its characters' moments of clarity as major twists that are presumably supposed to be just as surprising to the audience as they are to the characters themselves. This, to say the least, doesn't work. 

Narratively, the film is extremely predictable but it made worse by how unearned its apparent moments of profundity and revelation truly are. Within second of meeting Brad, his son, Brad's (former?) friends and Brad's sons preternaturally smart friends and potential college buddies, we know exactly who these people are and what makes them tick. That it always takes Brad so long to do the same is never less than frustrating.

And then there's Brad himself. I've long been a defender of Ben Stiller (even if he makes it rather difficult at times) but he has seldom been worse than he is here. Whether it's entirely his fault or not – and in  collaborative efforts like filmmaking, it seldom is any one person's entire fault – Stiller's Brad is an insufferable douche whose lack of insight into, well, anything would be far more forgiveable if it wasn't under-pinned by some of the worst voice-over monologuing I've come across in a film in a long time.

It got to the point that when someone chewed him out for his “white privilege”, I mentally cheered, despite the fact that I absolutely hate the idea of “white privilege” as anything but a self-reflective tool: calling out someone's else's socio-economic background when they're in pain isn't just tactless; it's cruel. And yet, Brad's endless whinging and utterly oblivious self-pity when he has so much good going on in his life made me want to give him a right old smack. With a mallet. Call this callousness on my part, but to me this just says everything about how little I bought into this character and how little I cared about his trials and tribulations.

Again, I hate to have so negative a reaction to a film that is never less than solidly made (even if the “edy” part of the film's “dramedy” needs a lot of work), is clearly well intentioned and is the personal vision of someone whose work I have actively loved in the past, starring a bunch of actors that I generally really like, but here we are. Your mileage may vary, of course, but to me, Brad's Status is, at very, very best, a substandard “must try harder.”



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