Written and directed by Mike White | 92 min
Why is it that Ben Stiller comes off as kind of smug, even when he’s playing desperate and self-pitying? It’s his special gift, challenging his audiences to find him sympathetic in movies like Greenwood, Your Friends and Neighbours and Flirting With Disaster. He really outdoes himself here, playing Brad Sloan. the quintessential middle-aged privileged white guy. He’s taking his musical prodigy son, Troy (Austin Abrams), on a tour of Ivy League schools while we hear his frequent thoughts in voice over—his anxieties, insecurities, and fantasies—play out, comparing his life to “more successful” old friends played by Michael Sheen, Jermaine Clement, and Luke Wilson.
As satire it’s far more excruciating than it is funny, trapped as we are in Brad’s head as he goes from selfish to self-loathing, dreaming about being desired by Troy’s college-aged friends (including Shazi Raja and Luisa Lee) and imagining how Troy’s future success will make him feel. This is all about Brad. He’s remarkably neurotic for a man his age, and as a man his age, I could barely stand to listen to him and his complete inability to find any sort of gratitude in his very fortunate life. I kept being reminded of Ani Difranco’s dictum: “If you’re not getting happier as you’re getting older, you’re fucking up.”
But I can’t deny that Mike White’s film gets to some core truths. It’s hard not to compare where you’re at with your peers, and the film has things to say about the way men especially are socialized to be competitive. White has a knack for finding and revealing a certain kind of mundane anxiety in modern life, as he did in The Good Girl and Chuck And Buck. This is another unusual, awkward gem like those films. Stiller may be an appallingly self-involved asshole to the point where it’s sometimes hard to understand how even his family puts up with him, but he’s also undeniably plausible, and you may find Brad’s Status prompting some interesting conversation—even if it’s only with yourself.