TIFF 2017: Brad’s Status
There is a wealth of films that have looked at men going through what can only be called mid-life crisis. By all accounts Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) seems to be going through one, at least internally. From the outside, his life seems to be pretty good. He is the head of a non-profit organization, his marriage to Melanie (Jenna Fischer) is a happy one and his son Troy (Austin Abrams) is on track to get into any college of his choosing. What more could a guy ask for? It turns out a lot.
Despite living a comfortable life, Brad finds himself awake at night wondering what could have been. You see all of Brad’s college friends – Billy (Jermaine Clement), Jason (Luke Wilson), Craig (Michael Sheen) and Nick (Mike White, who also writes and directs the film) – have all made a lot of money and reached a certain level of fame. Heck, Billy has already retired and is in a polyamorous relationship with two women. At age 47-years-old, Brad cannot help but wonder if his life would be better had he spent more time focused on capitalism.
While Ben Stiller has perfected playing the self-doubting middle-age man of late, Mike White brings a refreshing new take on this type of character by showing that Brad’s problems are not really the problems he thinks they are. It becomes obvious that Brad’s Status is not about Brad coming to terms with his failures in life, but rather him awakening, reluctantly at that, to his privilege as a successful white male. His longing for more is not about failure, but greed. He feels entitled to have what his friends have even when they are not competing with him.
Brad’s need to be the centre of attention, or at least feel as if the world was designed to revolve around him, is nicely conveyed when White observes Brad’s paranoia surrounding Troy’s possible feature success. Brad is willing to use his connections to get Troy in to meet deans and key professors, but also wonders if his son will hold any future successes over his head. Even when a college student calls Brad out on his privilege, he interprets the feedback through his own self-centered lens. In fact, he seems more upset at possibly ruining the chances of sleeping with the student, only in his mind would he even think he had a shot, than the nuggets of truth she offered him.
In both presenting and mocking the sense of entitlement that many middle-aged men have nowadays, White crafts a surprisingly astute comedy that has far more depth than it appears on the surfaces. White’s script, coupled with the strong performances by Stiller and cast, will have you both laughing and contemplating the nature of privilege in America.