Brad’s Status – Film Review by Pat Viale
Director: Mike White
Writer: Mike White
Stars: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer
Ben Stiller seems to have cornered the market in playing ambitious, neurotic men struggling with a mid-life crisis, dissatisfied with the turn their life has taken and envious of their friends and colleagues – a role that was formerly the domain of Woody Allen. In Mike White’s latest film he plays Brad, who, as the title suggest, is obsessed with his position in the world and convinced that life is rapidly passing him by. When his teenage son, Tony (Austin Abrams) sets off for a series of interviews for admission to a prestigious university, Brad accompanies him, recalling his own college days and the friends he made there with whom he has since lost contact.
The worst of it is that most of his college friends, played here by Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement and Luke Wilson have gone on to be fabulously rich and famous. In a number of inner monologues, Brad fantasises about their idyllic lives where they romp on sunlit beaches with bevies of young girls or fly around the world in their own private jets accompanied by their perfect families. When Tony runs into a problem with his interview for Harvard, the college Brad has fixated on for him, he feels his only chance of success is to contact his former friends to see if they can pull any strings – letting us see the contrast between the glamorous lifestyles Brad imagines for them and the often sordid reality of their existence.
Stiller plays his role to perfection and is maddening, yet curiously touching, in his portrayal of the obsessive father, more concerned with how acceptance to an important university like Harvard will reflect on his own status rather than whether it is the best choice for his son. He places little value on what he has, a loving and supportive wife (Jenna Fischer) and a remarkably talented (and patient) musician son and his work for a non-profit organisation. It is only after meeting Ananya (Shazi Raja), a young friend of his son, when is forced to explain his career choice and examine his feelings of failure, that he begins to see things in a different light. A further encounter with a friend from his college days (Martin Sheen at his obnoxious best), now an advisor to the White House, makes him realise that that he has been blind to the good life that surrounds him.
Abrams gives a flawless performance as the generous, understanding son, far more mature than his father, who knows what is truly important in his life. He lacks his father’s competitiveness and refuses to participate in his power games, determined only to follow the path that is right for himself. Sheen, the alpha male of his old college group, seems to personify everything Brad aspires to until they comes face-to-face and he realises how venal and small-minded that dream really is. He plays the part almost as an exaggerated version of his Tony Blair role in “The Queen”, oily and seemingly plausible, but at heart shallow and petty.
How you respond to this film depends very much on how you feel about Ben Stiller. He is an actor, more than most, who divides audiences. This is one of his best performances of recent times and while, as in many of his films, he is mannered and twitchy, and at times frustratingly irritating, he has a true comic genius and by the end of the film the redemption he achieves cannot fail but touch even the most hard-hearted viewer.