Review: 'Brad's Status', Ben Stiller Shines In Observant Midlife Crisis Comedy

"The world hated me, and the feeling was mutual", laments Brad Sloane (Ben Stiller) at one point in Mike White's dramedy, Brad's Status. Well damn, that's the kind of observation you might expect from somebody who has been beaten down by life, not an upper-middle class guy who runs his own non-profit, lives in a reasonable Sacramento home, has a beautiful wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and a son Troy (Austin Abrams) who may be getting into Harvard. So what's Brad's deal? Well, it's his status as a rung below his old college buddies who are firmly part of the 1%. Compared to them, he feels like a failure.

Woe is the white man, see how he struggles.

Brad's Status pretty much begs for you to hate it, and hate Brad, who doesn't realize how good he has it. He's got everything a normal, sane person could ever hope for, but the combination of boredom, midlife crisis, and Troy's college admissions has him going over the sum total of his life. All of Brad's pals are hugely successful, meaning they're rich. Nick (played by White himself) is a successful filmmaker whose $9M home is featured in magazines; Billy (Jemaine Clement) sold his tech company and retired at 40 to a far off island where he lives with two young women; Jason (Luke Wilson) married into wealth and runs his own successful hedge fund; and Craig (Michael Sheen) is a political pundit with close ties to the White House. They make Brad's poor little non-profit operation seem sad by comparison.

The film follows Brad and Troy during a trip to Boston to check out colleges, with Harvard at the top of the list. But really, this is about Brad and his moping...moping about money, his marriage, and eyeing everyone around him with jealousy. That extends to his son, who he looks at with a mixture of pride and envy. Envy that Troy may find greater success than he ever did, while at the same time Brad goes overboard in trying to impress his son. Brad's Status isn't exactly funny in the way most Stiller movies are. It finds nuggets of humor within the minor life observations White reveals about Brad, like that for all of his jealousy, he'd call on his friends in a heartbeat if their success could help him. He has a tendency to daydream about the awesome lives everyone but him is leading, like a really pathetic Walter Mitty.

Brad's stunning lack of self-awareness, and Stiller's pitch-perfect portrayal of it (think Greenberg, only softer), is what keeps the film enjoyable. It's hard not to laugh when the ever tone-deaf Brad whines that white guys are getting the short end of the stick at Harvard because they aren't foreigners with sob stories, or legacy kids. Taken at face value, Brad' Status would be intolerable and Mike White ripped for telling such an elitist's tale of perceived persecution. But White's not an idiot, and our chagrin is reflected in the young people Brad encounters. Troy is repeatedly put off by his father's antics, but the best scene of the entire movie is when college student Anaya (Shazi Raza), who longs to follow in Brad's footsteps, calls him out on his privileged bullshit. As he unloads on her about how tough he's had it, she doesn't buy it for a second. "Do you actually know anybody who is poor?", she asks as Brad gets defensive at her assertion, without really answering her question. Of course he doesn't. He's so busy competing with his friends that he's totally lost perspective on the world around him.

A different movie might have Brad learning some kind of lesson at this point. Maybe come to grips with how life has worn down the ideals he once held. But I applaud White for not taking Brad's Status down that route, which often leads to false sentimentality. We get the point. We don't need it spelled out for us or sweetened for easy digestion.

Rating: 3 out of 5