These days, Ben Stiller looks born to play middle-aged, uptight men in crisis. In this melancholy comic drama, he’s Brad Sloan, a suburban Californian dad who’s flying his teenage son to the East Coast to visit two prospective Boston universities, one of them Harvard. The son is nervous, but it’s the father who’s nearing a breakdown. He’s disappointed in what’s he become; disappointed that he’s not as rich, happy or romantically fulfilled as the four old college friends (Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Mike White) we see in his imagination – where they’re all invariably having a much better time than him, skipping over white-sand beaches or flying high in private jets.
Brad has a loving wife, a smart kid, a decent job and a good home. What’s his problem? But Stiller and his co-star and writer-director Mike White do a good job of making this a relatable crisis of perspective. Brad’s not conceited; he’s just lost.
‘Brad’s Status’ plays like a funny-sad short story: it’s contained, sharp and poignant, with early laughs that turn into something sadder. It leans a little too much on voiceover and music, and there are some awkward shifts in tone from thoughtful to throwaway. But the film presents a reflective argument for living in the moment, looking beyond your own nose and not assuming your friends are all living the high life while you’re doing the laundry.