Toronto 2017: Mike White’s Brad’s Status

On Film / The Daily — Sep 17, 2017

“Mike White’s father-and-son college-trip comedy-drama Brad’s Status is legitimately more frightening than anything in It,” declares Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice. “Quite aside from the fact that real life is always scarier than monsters from the beyond, the writer-director’s deep understanding of envy, entitlement and embarrassment has never been more nightmarishly effective. But don’t expect one of those broad humiliation comedies where the audience cringes and laughs as the characters make increasingly bigger asses of themselves; those movies usually provide some sort of catharsis. Brad’s Status remains grounded in reality—it’s gentle, human and unresolved. I loved it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch it again.”

Brad’s Status begins with the title character (Ben Stiller) in bed, mulling over the inadequacy of his life,” writes David Edelstein at Vulture. “He considers—in voice-over—his closest college friends, whom fortune has favored: a Hollywood director (White), an entrepreneur who has already retired to Hawaii (Jemaine Clement), a business titan (Luke Wilson) with his own plane, and celebrity TV commentator and author (Michael Sheen). Brad, in contrast, has a modest web business that matches nonprofit foundations and needy beneficiaries, while his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), is a cheerful government do-gooder. . . . But he feels as if he’s surrounded by ‘beta males.’ He feels left behind.”

“When he heads to Boston with his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to check out potential colleges, he finds himself in something of a tailspin, his deep-rooted unhappiness boiling to the surface,” writes the Guardian’s Benjamin Lee. “It’s well-worn territory for Stiller, who’s riffed on this before in Greenberg and While We’re Young, and his casting is both well-suited and somewhat repetitive. It’s infinitely more pleasurable to see him in a more nuanced comedy, but his dissatisfied indie schtick is in danger of becoming just as overused as his broader Meet the Parents persona.”

“Should we smell a rat when such tales are peddled by men whose bling exceeds all our blah prospects put together?” asks Ella Taylor, writing for NPR. “Maybe, but when Mike White weighs in, it's worth following along with the nervously inventive mind that brought wonderfully skewed angles to bear on the lives of disgruntled plebs in movies from The Good Girl to Chuck & Buck to the recent Beatriz at Dinner.

White “is attuned to the political implications of individual behavior and also to those aspects of experience that can’t be politicized,” finds the New York TimesA. O. Scott. “His characters are bundles of contradictory impulses and qualities. They are admirable and awful, full of idealism and full of themselves, weird and entirely familiar. Sometimes you might wish he pushed them harder.”

“White isn’t imagining people, or characters; he’s imagining talking points and slogans,” argues Richard Brody in the New Yorker, where Tad Friend chats with White over breakfast. “The flipness, the isolation, the casual detachment and blank simplicity with which White sermonizes to his viewers suggests the utter absence of observation and of introspection that went into the movie.”

“Brad’s general irritability is nicely reinforced by a discordant string score from Mark Mothersbaugh,” notes Variety’s Peter Debruge. That said, “Brad’s Status simply doesn’t feel like a 2017 film, and it’s strange how un-tech-savvy Brad is for someone who works as a social-media consultant. Chances are, Brad’s never heard of Twitter siren Sarah Hagi, but he’s precisely the sort she had in mind when she coined the phrase, ‘Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man’—while White has the nerve to make said privilege the subject of an entire movie.”

“With little drama or humor, it mostly amounts to watching a guy complain about his fairly decent life for 100 minutes,” writes Matt Singer at ScreenCrush.

At Slant, on the other hand, Kenji Fujishima finds that “Brad's Status may be about first-world problems, but thanks to White's humane outlook and Stiller's performance, even within that limited perspective, the film exudes hard-earned wisdom about the worthiness of being grateful for what one has rather than pining for what one doesn’t.”

“White has crafted a painfully funny and surprisingly moving character piece,” agrees Screen’s Tim Grierson, “but what’s most remarkable is how he and his star empathize with Brad’s feelings of inferiority while, at the same time, pinpointing the arrogance, privilege and callousness that often factor into such soul-searching.”

“You may have to be of a Certain Age for Brad’s Status to land,” offers Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. “But for those who are, it rings loudly with hard truths.”

Jon Frosch in the Hollywood Reporter: “This is the first of two fully rounded, finely shaded performances from Stiller in 2017 (the other is in Noah Baumbach’s upcoming The Meyerowitz Stories, which premiered at Cannes), suggesting that this most reliable of comic performers is finally mining his dramatic talents to satisfying effect. He’s well matched by Abrams, who pulls off the considerable feat of suggesting a fierce focus and drive beneath Troy’s mumbly adolescent nonchalance. . . . Brad’s Status is good enough to make you wish it were even better: tighter, bolder, sharper.”

More from Robert Abele (TheWrap), Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist, D), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B+), Christy Lemire (RogerEbert.com, 3.5/4), Vince Mancini (Uproxx), Jared Mobarak (Film Stage, C-), and Jacob Oller (Paste, 3.2/10). And Jeffrey Bloomer talks with White for Slate.

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