We lie awake at night, scrambling beneath the covers, as our minds rattle in the search for answers, looking for anything tangible to grab hold of. Frequently, these thoughts are those of unease and dread — thoughts that shrink our confidence. Mike White’s personal film “Brad’s Status” captures the the terror and humor that accompany aging and questioning the significance of one’s life accomplishments.
Ben Stiller plays Brad Sloan, a middle-aged man who is suffering from a mid-life crisis without relying on the typical “what does it all mean” trope. His mind races through existential fears that everyone faces: the fear of failing at life. Working for his own non-profit, Brad’s successes are meager in comparison to his college friends’, who he squirms in jealousy over. His insecurities are brought to the forefront of his mind when he travels with his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), to visit colleges.
As mentioned earlier, the source of Brad’s insecurities stem from his significantly more successful — and wealthier — college friends (Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Mike White). Through Brad’s narration, the viewer sees glimpses of his friends’ seemingly perfect lives: prancing around Hawaiian beaches, flying on private jets and hosting chic Hollywood parties. In contrast, Brad lives in a modest Sacramento home with his loving wife (Jenna Fischer) and teenage son, dedicating his time to help others.
It is a testament to White’s skills as a writer that “Brad’s Status” manages to effortlessly include humor in the most somber situations. In life, feelings of grief, melancholy and frustration are often joined by comedic relief that comes sporadically, unable to be predicted. This nuanced aspect encapsulates a humanity that offers the audience a chance to forget the screen before them and ruminate on their own understanding of life.
Of recent years, Stiller has established himself as a prominent player in the independent film sphere. With “Brad’s Status” and the upcoming “The Meyerowitz Stories,” Stiller continues to prove that he is an actor so in-tune with his emotions that he can portray an array of differing characters without much effort. Stiller is able to jump from sadness and desperation to moments of comedic relief in a matter of seconds. Additionally, Abrams gracefully captures the essence of a teen dealing with the stress of college admissions, while also having to deal with his father’s neurotic tendencies.
What makes “Brad’s Status” a substantial work is how well it evokes the simplicities of existence. The film proves that humans are already compelling creatures, with their own troubles, and giving them tights or capes does not create a more fascinating narrative. It is captivating to examine the contemplations of a character’s insecurities that do not differ much from our own. Brad’s journey to a fulfilling realization is both a universal one and a deeply intimate one.
In a world that largely centers on competition, one can lose track of the positives and instead focus on the negatives. White masterfully expresses a sense of mediocrity that is touchingly executed by Stiller. “Brad’s Status” is a funny, heartwarming and meditative film that turns the mind’s complexities into a celebration of life.
“Brad’s Status” opens in New York theaters on Friday, Sept. 15.
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