3 Stars – Thought-provoking
Combining a melancholy personality with a midlife crisis, Ben White as writer and director of Brad’s Status has created a fascinating film. Creating the lead character, Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) as part Walter Mitty with his fantasies and part Woody Allen with his ruminations, we walk with him through one week of his life when he joins his son Troy (Austin Abrams) on his college tour.
As is often the case, this transition in his child’s life causes Brad to not only remember his own college days but to contrast himself with his college friend’s life choices and subsequent success. Finding himself wanting in this comparison, Brad obsesses about how he got to where he is. In this classic midlife crisis, Brad’s depressive personality is difficult for his son to navigate but Troy does so with his own quiet struggles and love for his father.
The complexity of this moment is well developed: Brad’s decides his loving wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) is “too easily pleased” such that she wasn’t a force to help him become his best; His friend Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen) excelled in their mutual communication and government major, working for the White House, but Fisher does not value their friendship; His creative friend Nick Pescale (Ben White) is a successful movie mogul who didn’t invite him to his wedding; and his friends Billy Wearsiter (Jemaine Clement) and Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson) are both in deep personal need but don’t reveal this to Brad. These college friends are not the supportive life-long friends Brad thought they were.
Perhaps the most interesting conversation during this week was with a young Harvard Junior, a beautiful young woman about whom Brad fantasized. But when he seeks her out at a local bar, Ananya (Shazi Raja) listens deeply to his story and calls him on his self-absorbed, white, male privilege. This serves to be a predictable wake-up call as Brad gets more perspective and hears her critique of his first-world problems. Assuring him that he “has enough” to be happy, the possibility of that thought is where the film ends. Perhaps he will find happiness. But the lack of any transcendent purpose in any of their lives does not make that probable. Life has to be lived at a far greater level than our personal success, however we might describe that. In that this film is a helpful exploration.
- If you are in the middle of the years of your expected lifespan, are you finding increasing satisfaction or increasing doubt and despair? What does your answer imply for the last half of your life?
- Brad’s wife Melanie understood his obsessive thoughts and encouraged him to “be present” as he goes with their son on his college tour. How do you “be present” in the days of your life?
- Do you agree with Ananya that Brad’s self-absorption is a reflection of his white, male privilege or is it due to his melancholy personality, or some other factor? Why do you answer as you do?