The lives of others
When Facebook ceased becoming a college phenomenon and branched out to include older folks, people found long-lost friends, acquaintances, or someone they nodded to every day in the hall. This allowed people to reconnect with blasts from their pasts, but it also inevitably led to comparison of lives. What was their occupation? Did they have kids? Were they more successful than me?
One of the problems with Brad’s Status is that there is too much Brad. Clement, Fischer, Sheen, and Wilson form a great cast, but they’re all underused.
Of course, success is all relative and depends on what each individual values as important. Keeping up with—but not necessarily keeping in touch with—old friends is at the heart of the new movie Brad’s Status, starring Ben Stiller as the title character, a 47-year-old husband and father who runs a small not-for-profit company that links donors with charities through social media.
When Brad’s lone employee Chris quits, he tells Brad that he is no longer content soliciting funds. He suggests that he and Brad would be better off making loads of money and then giving it away to charity. This weighs on Brad, who despite having a good family life with his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and 17-year-old son Troy (Austin Abrams), and earning a decent living, starts to believe his life is subpar. Brad starts to think more about his former friends: an investor (Luke Wilson); an Internet start-up owner who retires at 40 (Jemaine Clement); a movie producer (Mike White, who also directs the film); and a presidential press secretary who becomes a bestselling author (Michael Sheen). Brad can’t stop imagining his friends’ lavish lifestyles and deems all of their lives superior to his. Brad’s midlife crisis manifests itself in the form of a self-pity party.
When Troy, a musical prodigy, starts looking at colleges, Brad tags along. Brad becomes more interested in Troy when he realizes his son has an above-average chance to attend Harvard. Brad is both proud and jealous, but when a goof-up threatens Troy’s plan, Brad seeks help, which leads him into the path of his old friends.
While the universal nature of wanting more and comparing oneself to one’s peers rings true, Brad never really demands the sympathy the filmmakers want you to have for him. His woe-is-me schtick is tired. Brad’s wife is loving and supportive, Troy is a smart, respectful teen, and Brad’s job provides a good living. We don’t see any evidence that Brad is remotely suffering in life.
One of the problems with Brad’s Status is that there is too much Brad. Clement, Fischer, Sheen, and Wilson form a great cast, but they’re all underused. We see almost everything through Brad’s melancholy lens, leaving the rest of the cast to show up primarily in fantasy scenes from Brad’s mind and not via much actual interaction with Brad. Clement, who was a star and creator of Flight of the Conchords, can be a scene stealer, as proven by his turn as the David Bowie-inspired singing crab in Moana. But Clement is relegated in Brad’s Status to a cliché of a young retiree who lives a carefree life in Hawaii.
With news events forcing people to talk more purposefully and sometimes uncomfortably about race, Brad’s Status comes across as shallow and even naive. Brad and his friends are difficult to relate to and even more difficult to root for. They are five affluent and privileged men with little substance on the screen. Even after Troy’s friend Ananya admonishes Brad for comparing his privileged life to his successful, predominantly white friends’ lives and moaning about his “first-class problems,” Brad becomes defensive and can’t shake his self-wallowing tendencies.
When I started using Facebook, I reconnected with a childhood friend. He had worked hard to become a key player with influence in the music industry, which is a huge interest of mine. At the time, I was working part-time and a stay-at-home dad. As we corresponded, I mentioned how great his life seemed, while he lamented that what he really wanted to be was a stay-at-home dad. We realized what we already knew: for the two of us at least, life has ruts, but the grass is already pretty green.
1.5 out of 4 stars. Brad’s Status is rated R primarily for language.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.