Brad's Status

 

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A vehicle for Ben Stiller which succeeds or fails according to your response to the character he plays.

 
Brad's Status

  

The central character here, Brad Sloan played by Ben Stiller, not only takes over the title but dominates the entire film. We meet him first in Sacramento when he is about to fly to Boston with his 17-year-old son, Troy (Austin Abrams), who is due to have interviews at colleges such as Harvard where he hopes to find a place. Brad’s Status is structured around this, although the synopsis for it emphasises that this is the story of a man who compares himself with friends who have become successful in their own spheres and so comes to believe that he is a failure. The description supplied then goes on to say that Brad will come to see that their outward achievements conceal truths that make them far less superior to himself than he supposes.

 

This sounds like a promising outline for a comedy and one in which the friends (roles taken by Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement and the film’s writer/director Mike White) might well play a considerable part. But, in the event they make limited contributions (only Sheen’s celebrated author really makes a mark) and, while young Troy is present throughout, everything revolves around Brad - and all the more so because in a film in which words count for a great deal he provides the voice-over commentary.

 

Early on there is an engaging comic scene in which Stiller’s Brad discusses with his wife (Jenna Fischer) how much they may inherit when their respective parents die and, much later, Sheen shares with him an effective comic episode set in a restaurant. But these are the exceptions, for elsewhere Brad’s character is the pivot for the humour and that for me creates problems. At first this leads tellingly enough to moments in which he cannot cut the figure to which he aspires (as when he is refused an upgrade on the flight tickets to Boston) but soon his outlook on life becomes the crucial factor. Brad soon emerges as totally self-centred, measuring everybody by reference to himself (if he feels a failure then he can, and does, blame his lack of ambition on the fact that his wife seems satisfied with less; if he takes pride in his son, it is because the boy could become a credit to him, but then he has doubts because Troy might come to be seen as more successful than his father). That Brad can criticise himself over some of these notions does not make him any more likeable and he emerges as theoretically more pathetic than comic which, since White’s film does not seem to be aiming for tragi-comedy, makes him unappealing as a central comic figure. That the film eventfully goes soft does not help either. None of this can be blamed on the actors: Stiller is all too convincing, while Sheen briefly shines and Abrams is quietly effective. Anyone who finds Brad Sloan hilarious or alternatively a figure at once comic and touching will like Brad’s Status much more than I did.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Shazi Raja, Luisa Lee, Mike White, Xavier Grobet, Adam Capriolo, Felicia Shulman.

 

Dir Mike White, Pro David Bernad, Dede Gardner, Sidney Kimmel, Brad Pitt and Mike White, Screenplay Mike White, Ph Xavier Grobet, Pro Des Richard Hoover, Ed Heather Parsons, Music Mark Mothersbough, Costumes Alex Bovaird.

 

Plan B Entertainment/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment-Vertigo Films.
101 mins. USA 2017. Rel: 5 January 2018. Cert. 15.