Check Your Status Into This Fine Little Movie
DIRECTED BY MIKE WHITE/2017
Brad’s Status is one of those films that on paper has elements that will turn you off, but the execution is done in such a beautiful, poetic and unexpected way. And if you go in only knowing it was written and directed by a comedic actor Mike White and starring Ben Stiller, who is of course a comedic actor, you may not be ready for just how smart this movie is.
Stiller plays Brad, a middle-aged father who is married to a wonderful woman named Melanie (Jenna Fisher) and has a son Troy (Austin Abrams) who is about to graduate High School and is picking between Harvard and Yale. Yet, Brad cannot get over the fact that he never lived up to his potential and constantly compares himself to his old classmates who are now far more successful.
Sounds like some real first-world problems, right? And they are. However, the film acknowledges that. He is called out by other characters for having this white privileged crisis, and his immediate concession that they are right shows a self-awareness to Brad that the film also has.
However, he is still suffering from these problems. It is implied that he probably suffers from some sort of depression, but like millions of people around the world, it hasn’t been diagnosed and isn’t a plot point. And Brad isn’t a bad guy. He doesn’t want to hurt people. In fact, he runs a non-profit that helps other non-profits connect to the public.
This all had me thinking during the film, has it gone too far to dismiss people with ‘first-world problems’? And if so, is the logical conclusion to that criticism to mock people like Robin Williams, who committed suicide, even though he appeared to have all he needed in life?
Stiller travels with his son to Cambridge to check out some of the schools. Most of who Brad is as a person is shown through his relationship with Troy and through the internal monologue that carries the film along. Brad is torn and self-reflective. Sometimes he appears to be a terrible dad and other times he appears to be a father I would love to be.
Quick side-note on the internal monologue. I know it’s frowned upon and discouraged in writing classes. It’s deemed a lazy way to tell a story. Show, don’t tell. But as someone who loves to read novels, I’d point to the way White writes the internal monologue, with beautiful thoughts that sound like that are plucked straight from a great book, can make this form of monologue the definite exception to the rule.
The conflict in his mind is caused by himself, but has taken on the face of his old classmates. So a few phone calls, including a very powerful one to his old friend Jason (Luke Wilson), goes deeper into exposing the kind of person Brad is (for better and worse). And the whole film climaxes at a dinner with the classmate Craig (Michael Sheen) who defined everything that Brad never became in life.
In the end, Brad’s Status is such an unorthodox structured film, but that allows it to hit emotions most movies do not. And it felt important, at a time when there is a huge metropolitan/rural divide in America, that a film shows that the emotions both sides of that divide feel may be more similar than they think.