From the awkward title to the reliance on excessive voiceover to drive the story, “Brad’s Status” is a decent idea that could have been executed so much more subtly and skillfully. “Status” in the title refers, of course, to social media “status updates” and status in general. This is a topic that haunts the morose and petulant Brad (Ben Stiller,) a reasonably successful husband, father and founder of a nonprofit, who still feels unfulfilled compared to some unusually successful college classmates.
Brad seems to have graduated from a particularly promising crop of students at Tufts, because four of his closest friends are wildly rich and famous. Michael Sheen plays another in a string of condescending roles as Craig, a political analyst who is always on TV, publishing books and competing with an equally successful writer wife, while Michael White, who also wrote and directed this film, plays a big movie director. Jemaine Clement is living an outrageously good life in Hawaii with two girlfriends and more money than he knows what to do with, while Luke Wilson is a hedge fund manager with his own plane. Clearly, Tufts has some quality programs.
Compared to these glittering former friends, Brad feels lame, and he resents his wife’s (Jenna Fischer) feelings of contentment. When Brad takes their son Troy on a trip to Boston to visit Harvard and Tufts, his feelings range from pride in his son’s musical genius to jealousy of his son’s imagined future successes.
The film takes a break from Brad’s whining to show us some amusing imagined sequences of Troy’s possible futures, and of course, Brad sees them only in terms of himself, and whether his son’s future will reflect poorly or positively on him in the eyes of the world. Brad imagines these eyes of the world to be on him at all times. This is an interesting and certainly relatable enough idea, but it proves too thin to hang the entire film on, and it didn’t go far enough.
Every time dialogue starts to drive characterization, the film switches over, maddeningly, to Brad’s voiceover telling us what the film was just starting to show us. Writer/director White just won’t let the film progress without Brad needlessly explaining what he is thinking, and it’s almost insulting to think that the film’s basic themes might not be clear to the viewer without this further explication. At no point was I wondering what Brad was thinking, until his voice came over to fill me in.
Austin Abrams, the actor in the role of the son, saves the film with his delicate and quietly emotional performance. What the director somehow manages to leave beautifully unsaid is that it’s ugly for a parent of such a cool, sweet kid to feel so unhappy when this guy is right in front of him. Far more effective than any declared realizations from Brad are his nicely underplayed scenes with his son.
If you have had the kinds of thoughts Brad has, you will experience enough sympathy to get something out of “Brad’s Status.” But if the writer/director had really worked through these issues artistically, and really synthesized these issues further, the film would have been stronger and more satisfying.
“Brad’s Status” is currently available to rent.