TIFF 2017 Review: Brad’s Status is a Must-See Self-Worth Journey.
Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is a middle-class 47-year old who works for a non-profit while his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) works for the government and his son Troy (Austin Abrams) is planning for college. Brad spends most of his time thinking back on his life while wondering what it would be like if he made different decisions along the way. In an attempt to briefly escape from his mundane life, Brad heads to Boston for a memorable father/son adventure with Troy as he begins to interview at various colleges.
Brad’s Status is one of the most surprising films of the year and one that will stick with you for days after seeing it. There are so many films about men and/or women going through a mid-life or quarter-life crisis that these types of films have almost become a genre of their own. What shocked me about Brad’s Status is that is steers far away from the typical clichés found in those types of films. Mike White tells a story that makes audience members question and think about things without giving them an answer to the questions the characters are asking. White’s script is thought-provoking as it makes the viewer think about their own life and how others view them.
The character of Brad Sloan is just an everyday guy living a very average and simple life. Brad looks at those around him and yearns for something more. He often ponders about why his life isn’t as great as his college friends. Brad often compares his life to that of Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson), Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen), or Billy Wearslter (Jemaine Clement) but he just assumes their lives are great without really knowing anything about them. The film explores the idea of what you see on the surface may not always be the reality. Brad complains about how average his life is and even looks to blame others for it. As time passes he begins to learn that being envious of others isn’t exactly as picture perfect as it initially seemed.
There are so many memorable moments sprinkled throughout the 104-minute runtime. The film opens on a scene where Brad lays in bed next to his wife Melanie as he thinks about his financial situation. This five-minute scene perfectly sets the tone for the type of story that is about to be told. Brad is someone who lives an average life but yearns for more. He isn’t suffering yet feels like he hasn’t lived up to his true potential. Throughout the film, Brad is found in various situations where he has no “pull” so he feels like a failure.
As Brad and Troy spend more time together in Boston, the more Brad begins to think about how great his son’s life could be. Brad begins to have visions of Troy’s future where he is a well-known musician and is featured in magazines. Brad begins to think that his son could have the life that he currently wants. However, it doesn’t take long before Brad’s vision of Troy’s success turns into a nightmare. He begins to think about Troy mocking him and labels him a loser.
While in Boston, Troy and Brad meet up with Ananya (Shazi Raja), one of Troy’s friends who is currently a sophomore at Harvard. Ananya invites the guys to dinner with her friend Maya (Luisa Lee). As they begin to order their food, Ananya and Maya talk about their future and views on things going on in the world. It is in this moment where Brad feels something that he hasn’t felt in years. Brad feels a sense of optimism and begins to think what his life would be like if he was in college and dating Ananya and Maya.
After dinner, Ananya and Maya invite Troy and Brad to go to a bar. Brad politely declines and states that they have to go back to their hotel because Troy has his big interview at Harvard in the morning. Troy quickly falls asleep but Brad can’t get his brain to turn off. He heads to the bar where he runs into Ananya and they begin to talk. Brad offers Ananya some advice about her future career. He mentions that she should take a job for the money because he regrets his career choices. Ananya’s attitude towards Brad completely changes after this comment.
Knowing that his advice isn’t exactly what Ananya wanted to hear, Brad spends the rest of the night trying to justify his views on having a career and status. Ananya stops Brad and tells him that he doesn’t realize how good his life ultimately is. She calls him out for his white male privilege. She begins to ask him why does he feel the need to compete with others. Ananya continues by noting that she comes from a country where people are starving and begging for a dollar or two to survive or get something to eat. This is such a powerful scene because Brad realizes, if only for a moment, how selfish he is and that this young and naive college girl has a better perspective and outlook on life than he does.
There are a lot of moments like this one above throughout the film. I don’t want to go into detail and spoil them but each one offers plenty of food for thought. I admire White’s script for being so well-written and having such depth. There are several scenes that are very funny yet subtle that all revolve around a common man being rejected due to his status. The two that stand out include a scene in a restaurant as well as an upgrading ticket scene at the airport early on in the film.
The performances are great all around but this is clearly Ben’s movie. The actors all work to elevate Stiller’s performance and add something to the character. Stiller’s performance as Brad Sloan could quite possibly be his finest performance to date. Stiller’s presents Brad as this average-Joe yet the character is incredibly complex and complicated. I think almost anyone will be able to relate to Brad in some way. He can’t help but look around at others and think “what if my life was like theirs?” without actually knowing the reality of that person’s life. Stiller is committed to the character and his desire to be a man with a higher purpose and status.
All in all, Brad’s Status is a simple yet brilliant film that is one of the biggest surprises of the year. As someone who grew up in a lower middle-class area of New Jersey, I found myself relating a lot to what Brad was going through and his thought process. I feel like there is a lot to think about when watching this film. Mike White has once again crafted a fantastic story with real characters that will intrigue audiences of all ages. Ben Stiller has never been better and this is one of my new favorite films of his. Brad’s Status will make you laugh and make you think. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for Brad’s Status is a 9 out of 10.