Brad’s Status review: A pointedly excruciating mid-life crisis comedy

Ben Stiller is gratingly effective as a self absorbed executive who envies his son

The official trailer for Brad's Status, starring Ben Stiller. Video: Amazon Studios

If you’re not a fan of Stiller’s neurotic, self-absorbed turns in While We’re Young then this squirm-making social satire from Mike White is not the movie for you.

Film Title: Brad's Status

Director: Mike White

Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Michael Sheen, Jenna Fischer, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Mike White

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 102 min

Thu, Jan 4, 2018, 05:00

   

There comes a moment in this latest film to feature Ben Stiller having a breakdown when, mid-whine, his son’s friend, Ananya, calls him out on what she rightly identifies as “white privilege, male privilege, first-class problems”.

It’s a joyous moment in this pointedly excruciating mid-life crisis comedy. The titular Brad (Stiller) is only conversing with Ananya because he’s come to see his son as a kind of rival: “What if Troy’s wins made me feel even more a failures,” he wonders; “What if I became envious of my own son?”

There’s no “what if” about it.

If you’re not a fan of Stiller’s neurotic, self-absorbed turns in While We’re Young and The Meyerwitz Stories, then this squirm-making social satire from Mike White (screenwriter of School of Rock and Chuck and Buck) is not the movie for you.

Brad’s Status casts the Zoolander star as the head of a non-profit organisation who has lately begun to obsess over wealth, privilege and perceived inadequacies.

Scrolling through social media, he seethes with envy over his former college chums, a coterie of success stories that include a Hollywood director (White), an entrepreneur (Luke Wilson), an internet millionaire (Jemaine Clement) and a White House advisor (Michael Sheen).

Brad’s omnipresent voiceover becomes even more self-pitying as he embarks on a tour of prospective campuses with his college-age son, Troy (Austin Abrams). “Try not to put too much pressure on yourself,” Brad councils. Gifted Troy has to gently break the news that Harvard is among his many options. But will those options be scuppered by his dad’s interference?

The interior monologue can become grating, but White’s tart screenplay finds a rich, sardonic seam in the gap between Brad’s self-absorption and his lack of self-awareness. Brad moans that he is surrounded by beta males yet still gets alarmed when he encounters his son in a towel.

Stiller has visited this territory before, but never with such grating effectiveness. Following on from Ingrid Goes West; Brad’s Status has dark fun with social media envy. Between the bouts of schadenfreude, Mark Mothersbaugh’s bumpy score plays as the film builds toward a disconcertingly unpredictable classical musical recital. It falls to the millennials –Troy and Ananya – to counter Brad’s ridiculous pettiness. Their good sense provides the only refuge from the discomfort.