It’s easy to mistake “Brad’s Status” as just another movie about a white, privileged male having a mid-life crisis. But this new film from Amazon Studios is far more than that – indie filmmaker Mike White has transformed a deceptively simple story – a father takes his son on a tour of East Coast colleges and begins to question every aspect of his own life – and transforms it into the story of an entire generation. Here’s what Amazon gets right with “Brad’s Status.”
Amazon absolutely nails Ben Stiller in the role of the neurotic Brad Sloan
Quick, name a 50-something male actor known for playing a neurotic navel-gazer or a lovable loser. You’d probably name Ben Stiller, and that’s why the choice of Ben Stiller to play the neurotic, navel-gazing Brad Sloan is perfect. In many ways, Brad Sloan seems to have made it – he’s happily married, he lives in California, he enjoys his job, and his 17-year-old son Troy (played by Austin Abrams) just might end up getting accepted by Harvard.
But when he starts comparing himself to others, that’s where the problems start. He’s essentially going through a mid-life crisis, all while being forced to endure the (perceived) humiliation that four of his college classmates are all fabulously wealthy and successful. Everything seems to come easy to these four (one is a hedge funder, one is a Hollywood film mogul, one is a political commentator and writer, and one is a tech entrepreneur) – but nothing comes easy for Brad. And that leads to him moping around for much of the film, trying to make sense of his life.
Amazon sets up a great father-son dynamic to drive the narrative forward
The focal point of the movie is the father-son tour of East Coast colleges, including a visit to Harvard. And it’s here that the movie really shines. Ben Stiller and Austin Abrams turn in remarkable performances, and their interplay is what moves this film forward. In many ways, Ben Stiller’s character begins to view his son as a mirror into his own life. And that, in turn, creates all kinds of complications – like when he finds himself falling for one of Troy’s new female friends. It also forces him to reassess how successful his life was, and how he should even begin to measure success.
In many ways, it’s hard not to think of another Amazon Studios movie – “Manchester By the Sea,” starring Casey Affleck as a washed-up loser tormented by deep memories of his past. Casey Affleck’s character only begins to put his life together when he becomes the guardian of his deceased brother’s teenage son, who also happens to have an attractive girlfriend as well as an affinity for music. And, in many ways, “Manchester By the Sea” was a similar kind of uncomfortable film in that it made you dig into the meaning of life and see that there are no easy answers.
“Brad’s Status” explores each generation’s fixation on status
Some film reviewers have rolled their eyeballs at the premise of this movie. They have noted that it focuses too much on “white male entitlement” and “white privilege.” After all, it’s hard to feel too sorry for someone who has a nice home, a nice job, and a loving family.
But there’s something very profound going on in America right now. It’s no longer expected that your kids will lead a better life than you did. It’s no longer a given that you will have a job for life, a nice home and plenty of career success. The world is much more complex right now – and it’s easy to see how the discontent felt throughout middle America is starting to seep its way to the two Coasts, where Brad Sloan and his wonderful friends hang out. For every tech boom, there’s a tech bust. For every bull market rally, there’s a profoundly shattering market crash.
Until recently, people who hadn’t “made it” (as Brad’s friends certainly have) kept it to themselves. Brad is continually humiliated when his friends can’t even remember what he does – they just call it his “little thing” – and leave it at that. For more than two decades, Brad has been able to keep his status to himself. He wasn’t forced to define it, or even think about it.
But in today’s digital era, your status follows you around constantly. As a result, “Brad’s Status” perfectly gets the current zeitgeist, where “status” is something that we broadcast every day on Facebook with status updates. What’s your status? Why aren’t your photos getting enough likes? You see, status is all around us – and it’s there for all to see.
As a result, it’s wrong to see “Brad’s Status” as merely a focus on the status of the older generation – it’s also a referendum of sorts on the current, millennial (and post-millennial) generation, If guys like Brad Sloan are having mid-life crises right now, just imagine what’s going to happen to their kids.
Amazon’s “Brad’s Status” shows us the complexities of real life
The reason why viewers will love “Brad’s Status” is because it will force them to re-assess and think about their own lives. It can be uncomfortable, and more than one film has referred to this film as “squirmy.” Yes, you’ll squirm in your seat as you watch it because, most likely, it will cut a little too close to your own life.
The film will make you consider: Are you living out your adult dreams through your children? How exactly are you dealing with the everyday envy you experience? For Brad, even boarding an airplane can become an issue, when he sees that others are enjoying first-class status and he’s not. The same is true when he goes to an upscale restaurant and is denied a seat.
In many ways, Brad Sloan is just like you or me, whether you choose to accept that fact. It’s easy to dismiss Brad Sloan as an egocentric, narcissistic, neurotic white guy – but all of us have to deal with the “unfairness” of life around us. Why are some promoted and others not? Why do some people get to live in huge McMansions and others don’t? Why are there still class divisions in America?
“Brad’s Status” is just the latest evidence that Amazon is making its mark on Hollywood. In many ways, this film is cut from the same cloth as “Manchester By the Sea.” It has the feel of an indie film, but boasts an A-list actor like Ben Stiller. So don’t be surprised if people are talking about this film long after it has disappeared from the box office.