Brad’s Status has occasional moments of greatness and insight which get buried underneath its protagonist’s overused, inner-monologue, detailing what Brad is thinking at any given moment without giving the film the ability to speak. It’s a clever concept at first, as Brad (played by Ben Stiller) is very neurotic and always judging himself against others. But it happens too often that it causes the movie to slog along and not reach its true potential.
That’s a hefty flaw, because potential, or rising up to it, is a big theme of this movie. See, Brad is a 47-year-old, non-profit head who is taking his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to look at colleges in Boston. But instead of focusing on making the most of this important time with his son before he ships off to the real world, Brad is distracted by success stories of his old college peers, who in no particular order, have become a Hollywood director, a Hedge Fund manager, a retired 40-something Hawaii-living millionaire with two girlfriends half his age, and a respected, famous media official at the White House.
This mid-life anxiety and paranoia seeps through Brad’s skin and effects everyone he comes into contact with, making his much more mellow son’s potential adjustment to Harvard that much more difficult. It’s a perfect role for Stiller, who has a strong pedigree in selfish, self-serving characters who eventually find their way. Austin Abrams is a delight too as Troy, a much more mellow, soft-spoken individual who shows no genetic evidence of his father’s anxiety. Writer and director Mike White crafts a touching relationship between these two that is strengthened by its realism. They aren’t overly-lovey or incredibly distant, they feel just like any father and son who are trying to bond but don’t know exactly what to say.
Still, those moments get buried in the flash-fantasies of Brad, where we’re constantly jumping to his inner monologue or vivid depictions of what he thinks his friend’s are up to, or what he wishes he could be doing or could have done differently in his life. It feels like White wasn’t confident enough that the emotional complexities of his story would resonate and used these monologues and flash-fantasies to make sure the audience understood whatever what they were supposed to in that moment. Trust me White, we got it.
Despite feeling overly-long, the movie wraps up quite nicely, and we leave feeling enlightened by the brief glimpses of true insight we saw in the film. Brad’s Status would have had a much bigger impact if it just stopped talking and let us listened to the story once in a while.