When Ben Stiller connects with a script that gives him a wholly three dimensional character like Brad Sloan, it is a pleasure to watch — and that is just the opportunity writer/director Mike White has handed him in Brad’s Status, a comedy with genuine smarts that says a lot about our lot in life and how we come to learn to accept who we are.
As I say in my video review above, Brad is a good husband to Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and father with a decent job living in Sacramento and not really questioning his own life and self-worth until he takes his son Troy (a deliciously low key Austin Abrams) on an East Coast college tour. Troy actually isn’t as excited about all this as his dad, and pretty soon it becomes much less about the kid’s future than it is about Brad’s past, especially friendships with a group of guys who seemingly have all gone on to much more successful lives and careers than their buddy played by Stiller. When he makes contact with these college buddies he learns they are all — on the surface — roaring successes, on paper at least.
White plays a sort-of celebrity named Nick Pascale. Luke Wilson is Jason Hatfield, a hedge fund operator. Jemaine Clement is Billy Wearslterm some sort of tech guru while Michael Sheen is a best-selling author and in-demand speaker named Craig Fisher. When Brad needs help from Craig to cut red tape and get Troy an important college interview appointment he also decides to get together with him for dinner. That awkward meal is beautifully played between Stiller and Sheen who have absolutely no connection at all. It is a highlight of the film. In fact, this movie is at its best when the main characters are sitting in restaurants just talking, as Brad also does in an early scene with his son.
There is a certain cutting-edge truth to the self-analysis Brad goes through in trying to determine if he just has somehow missed the boat in life that everyone else seems to have caught. Or is Brad’s status really more as a stand-up guy that a person society says has “made it”? Could the value of a life be something else entirely?
As he also did recently in the Cannes competition film, The Meyerowitz Stories, Stiller proves he can be so good getting the nuances of these family guys dealing with an existential life crisis that really isn’t worth the personal angst. Though also known for more wildly comic talents, Stiller has shown time and again he can actually be a terrific dramatic actor, something the best comedians have an innate gift for. Brad’s Status is quiet and unassuming, a dramedy worth spending time with.
Producers are White, Brad Pitt, Sidney Kimmel, David Bernad, and Dede Gardner. Annapurna releases the Sidney Kimmel Ent. and Amazon production next Friday. It had its World Premiere tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Do you plan to see Brad’s Status? Let us know what you think.