Ben Stiller is more than capable of putting on a serious face and stop acting like a goofball, in order to show us all how he can cope under the pressures of being a serious actor. We have seen Stiller act seriously in films like Greenberg (2010) and While We’re Young (2014). Although he performed better in Greenberg in my personal opinion.
Brad’s Status marks Ben Stiller’s first role after the appalling disaster that was Zoolander (2016). And on paper the film sounds like it could be mark the start of a shift in the direction that Stiller might take towards choosing his acting roles. However, the end result is a rather flat film which seems to drag on. Although Stiller is the best thing about the film by a long shot.
The film follows hapless Brad Solan (Ben Stiller) who is escorting his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to look at a couple of colleges over a weekend. Brad is feeling forlorn because he can’t help but recall his old college friends who have gone on to lead better and more successful lives. Brad daydreams about his friends and imagines what they’re up to now. Picturing them flying on private jets, living in mansions and strolling tropical beaches with hot young women. He is keen to encourage his son to go after a career which will make him famous. And lots of money. Ignoring his son’s actual desires.
Brad is a good, decent man who loves his wife (Jenna Fischer) and he works for a non-profit charity. However there’s a high chance that he will make very little impact in the world. Although maybe he can somehow live through his son? As the weekend unfolds, Brad becomes more and more bitter, and his unhappiness, frustration. And anger reaches boiling point. Especially when he has dinner with his old friend Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen).
The film makes some interesting comments on the complications of using social media. Brad obsessively scrolls through his friend’s Facebook and Instagram profiles, and becomes jealous about seeing their successes whilst ignoring the world around him. Often Brad delivers a voice-over narration to explain his thoughts and feelings. Delivered in Stiller’s zaniness and dry humour, which keeps us entertained. Even if at times the narration gets a little too much.
The first rule of screenwriting class is “show don’t tell”. Writer and director Mike White may have skipped that session, as there are certain moments where you’re left groaning when Brad’s voice-over explains how sad he’s feeling. Even though we can clearly see from Stiller’s performance he’s very sad. It’s because of this that I began to lose patience with the film. There is something rather insulting about being told what the character is feeling by the director, and not being allowed to work it out for ourselves.
Brad’s Status feels a little too safe. Brad may be on the brink of a mental breakdown but he really doesn’t do anything of interest, apart from drinking with a couple of college girls and having a passive aggressive argument with the Dean of administration at the college. Some black comedy wouldn’t go amiss in the film, which is possibly what Noah Baumbach might have done with this material. Everything seems a little too safe and innocent with Brad’s Status and it feels very smoothed around the edges, which left me just feeling passive towards it.
There are some genuine laugh out loud moments, and the supporting cast are very strong, but the film just felt very average. Brad’s Status is one to catch on Netflix but it’s not a film to waste a cinema ticket on.