Brad’s Status is an independent dramedy starring Ben Stiller, directed by one of Hollywood’s under-the-radar writers and familiar faces Mike White (who wrote School of Rock Beatriz at Dinner), telling the story of a man hitting his mid-life crisis the week he takes his son for college visits. It’s almost frustrating how close this film is to being one of the best of the year, transcending its genre while still being very endearing. Between White’s honest writing and one of Ben Stiller’s best dramatic performances to date, Brad’s Status has a lot going for it. The film mostly succeeds in telling a story with two contrasting themes, which I’ll get to in a minute, but ultimately trips on its shoelaces. As a fair warning, I am going to nitpick a bit in this review, but only because I REALLY wanted to love this film.

Brad’s Status follows a standard, middle-class man who is struggling to be happy with his life. Throughout the film, Brad narrates his inner thoughts as he reflects on his life decisions and how he feels about them. Immediately, the use of this narration puts the audience in an intimate place with Brad. He runs a non-profit organization while the rest of his friends are rich, powerful, and successful. Right out the gate, the film takes on the difficult task of giving us a protagonist who we are supposed to sympathize with, but at the same time roll our eyes at. The film is so blunt with this, that there’s an entire scene devoted to highlight some of Brad’s poorer decisions. Something about this bluntness really grounded the story and makes Brad’s Status a great, unconventional dramedy. Mike White shines in his directorial debut, handling his script with a tenderness only he could pull off. White has a realistic approach to how people interact, which you can see throughout the film through Brad’s relationships with those around him, his son Troy in particular. Ultimately, the film ends up being a message about the value of your relationships and how they define you, not your wealth or social standing.

Brad’s Status is, at times, an intimate character study brought to life beautifully by Ben Stiller. I’ve always been a big fan of Stiller’s brand of comedy, but always felt he never gave it his all in regards to his dramatic performances. That’s certainly not the case here, as Stiller gives one of his best performances to date, showcasing a vulnerability we’ve never seen from him before. If there was an acting category simply for  how an actor uses their eyes or facial expressions, the race would be close this year between Tom Hardy, Michelle Pfieffer, and Stiller. But as far as real awards go, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stiller thrown into the conversation surrounding award season, at the very least for the Golden Globes.

The film is also supported by a solid cast, with Austin Abrams in particular as Troy, serving as a great counter-point to Stiller in a more understated performance. Most of the film centers on Brad and Troy’s trip, which is how Brad reflects on his life so far. The film does a lot of little things to revolve the story around Brad in one way or another. Abrams subtle performance is so successful because we learn everything about Troy through Brad. Jenna Fischer is fantastic as well, despite having limited screen time. One of my complaints would be the supporting cast is a little underutilized. When you have names like Jermaine Clement, Michael Sheen, and Luke Wilson attached as stars, you do want to see more of them. Speaking of underutilized, I was in love with the main score which we didn’t get enough of. It was whimsical, but also had a layer of melancholy that highlighted the clashing tones of this film perfectly.

When it comes to the story, I’m a bit uneven. I commend the structure of the film, which strips back the usual conventions of a family drama. The film is asking you to feel bad for someone who, for the most part, has a satisfying life. This causes the clash in tone that I have been talking about that benefits the film, but works against it as well. Brad’s Status properly straddles the line between comedy and drama, but often stumbles, having you inadvertently laugh during moments where you are supposed to be feeling sorry for Brad. The married couples at my screening were laughing very loudly whenever these scenes occurred.  This movie could have emphasized Brad’s discontent more, which only happens once in the form of him daydreaming about living the lives of his friends instead. It was a great storytelling technique, but the film abandons it directly after that. That is a very nitpicky argument to make as I warned you at the beginning of this review, but I stand by it. Despite this, the film manages to weave a narrative that encourages you to be thankful about what you have, while teaching the lesson that there’s nothing wrong with wanting more.

I really enjoyed Brad’s Status. We’ve seen plenty of mid-life crisis movies about a middle-class white man, but not too many of them call themselves out on it. This film does a great job of using tropes from past family dramas in clever and ingenious ways. I love that the message was that it’s okay to be unhappy, or feel unfulfilled. At the same time, it teaches you to remember the true value of what you have. Stiller gives a tender performance in the lead role, and without it the film would collapse. So much of the story revolves around Stiller putting us in the mind of Brad, and he was more than up to the task. Mike White should be a name to look out for in the future, given his strong debut here.

Though on the surface Brad’s Status appears to be your typical dramedy, it’s in fact a terrific character study on principles and value. This film will have you reflecting on your own life and decisions, leaving you inspired. Brad’s Status has a healthy amount of laughs and heart, I highly recommend seeing it with your family.

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