There are some tales that exist in many forms, and they were reborn each time when given a new spin. This isn’t the first movie about a mid-life crisis, nor was it Ben Stiller’s first time starring in a movie about suffering a mid-life crisis. Outside of his Zoolander revival and little cameos here and there, he was on a streak of playing a man lost at life with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and While We’re Young. In Brad’s Status, Stiller plays Brad Sloane, a father, a husband, and an upper-middle-class man working in a non-profit organization he himself founded. After embarking on a college-visiting trip with his son Troy, Brad starts reassessing his life.
Filmmakers tackle the same theme from different angles all the time. Even though the audience can guess where the stories lead to and where they might land, we are perfectly content to be taken for a ride, most of the time. But the same can’t be said for Brad’s Status. The core message of Brad’s Status is (unsurprisingly) about cherishing what one already has, but the story is set up in a way that puts the audience at the finish line from the very start. Brad lives a financially secure life with his happy family, and he’s the only one who cannot see that. The jarring disconnect between the audience and the oblivious protagonist makes watching Brad’s Status a frustrating experience.
Brad is very jealous of his more successful three college friends, to the point of obsession: one of his pastimes is hate-watching his friend appearing on national television. He loathes himself for not being a Silicon Valley tech boss, a hedge fund manager, or the Press Secretary at the White House, but guess what, very very few people are. His unrealistic expectations make his struggle hard to sympathize with. And when Brad tries to break down the reasons why he is where he is in life, I realized one very important thing: Brad is a dick.
His inner monologues are delivered in the form of monotone voice-over after a music cue, then scenarios playing in his head. All of this resembles awfully cheap soap operas. He lays blame to his supportive wife, he pictures his son succeeding but hogged all the glory, he lusts after his son’s friends, then insecurity and misogyny join forces, and he has another vision of his son and his friend taking the attractive college students away because of fame and wealth. Brad is a pathetic character.
After the movie runs most of its course, Brad catches up with the audience. And he finally realizes what he has is enough, he learns all of his friends are flawed people with issues after a contrived reveal, and wealth can’t buy happiness, then he walks away from a dinner with his press secretary-friend to his son. But not before thanking his well-connected friend for ensuring the admission of Troy to Harvard University. He joins his son at a concert with an air of the moral superiority of someone who has severed ties with the system while benefiting from the said system. Brad’s final moment of epiphany about the world at the concert still involves his attraction to Troy’s two friends who were performing on stage. A line of tears runs down Brad’s face, and he holds his son’s hand in his. It could not have felt more empty.
Brad’s Status is a coming-to-terms-with-aging comedy, and it’s a terrible one. During its runtime, it struggled to say anything profound about life while wallowing in a shallow self-made pit of misery. The entire movie was an unearned pat on the back for people who didn’t need it.