Brad’s Status is a film about narcissism and self-pity from a fairly successful middle-aged and middle class man played by Ben Stiller. That should mean that it’s an almost unwatchable bit of navel-gazing, but in the hands of writer/director Mike White, the film is so funny, touching, insightful and true that it stings deeply. In a world where not even Woody Allen can make a good Woody Allen movie anymore, it’s a joy to see White give it a go and succeed.
Stiller’s Brad should be in a happy place. He’s contently married, runs his own non-profit, and is about to head out to Boston to take his son (Austin Abrams) around to Harvard and a few other Ivy League colleges for recruitment interviews. Yet Brad’s miserable. He’s lost in a fog of self-pitying and depression, endlessly comparing his life to the social media window of his college friends (Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, and Mike White himself, all hilarious) and feeling like he came up short. He can barely pull himself out of the existential crisis long enough to enjoy the important moments that he’s sharing with his son. Sounds miserable. Good thing the movie is hilarious.
Mike White has been kicking around the film and television world for years, writing hits like ‘School of Rock’, indie oddities like ‘Chuck & Buck’, TV series like HBO’s underrated ‘Enlightened’, and even appearing on ‘The Amazing Race’ (hey, why not?). Throughout it all, White has developed a keen sense of observation of people struggling through emotional crises, both sensitively studying their psyches and gently giggling at their self-centered excesses. In his second feature as director, White has delivered quite possibly his finest work to date.
‘Brad’s Status’ is both a hilarious assault on narcissistic pity fueled by Facebook friend stalking and a sensitive exploration of a state of mind too easy to get lost in, even for those yet to hit a midlife crisis. The script walks a fine line of indulging in Brad’s neurosis and critiquing it, even going so far as finding a clever way to comment on the identity politics of dedicating so much time and emotion to problems so petty. The characters are all richly imagined by White and performed by the recognizable cast. Sheen, Clement and Wilson use their varied talents to play exaggerated comedic fantasies of their characters in Brad’s imagination as well as their sad reality. Stiller grounds the story with the sly deadpan humor that made him famous and the pained and personal dramatic acting that helped him endure.
The movie emerges as something both hilarious and poignant, specific yet universal, and a social satire very much of the moment. It feels like something special, while still being slight and personal enough to easily damn with overpraise. Hopefully, the movie will get a chance to connect with viewers without too much hype overstating its achievements. Like much of Mike White’s work, ‘Brad’s Status’ is a gentle lark that quietly reaches profundity. He’s good at that and has never been better than what he accomplishes here.