Offbeat writer/director Mike White’s latest film, Brad’s Status, follows a middle-aged white man in a tough emotional spot: He’s neurotic to a fault, easily swayed by externals and forever feeling as if he’s drawn the short straw in life—no matter how successful he may appear to be. Morose and sick with envy over his old college friends’ level of success relative to his own non-profit career, he heads out to the East Coast to make some college visits with his teenage son.
If you close your eyes a second and try to picture the character as described, there’s a chance you imagined someone roughly resembling Ben Stiller. If so, you and White are on the same wavelength: That is exactly whom he cast. The film is rolling into its second week at Ritz East, so we caught up with White to chat about his
You’ve made another film that straddles the equally awkward lines of wincing drama and mincing comedy. Is it being marketed as a straight-up comedy?
Actually, they're trying to show the warmth of the movie, which is cool. But, there aren’t many Something About Mary gaffe moments, so it's not like they can manufacture that in the trailer.
You still have some moments of inspired lunacy. I especially appreciated the scene where Brad imagines an 8-year-old doing a line of coke and high-fiving everyone on the private plane of his super-rich friend [played by Luke Wilson]. That’s pure comedy, man.
That kid was so into it by the end. I felt really weird, because every time he would do it—he didn't actually snort it, there was a machine in there that would suck it up—the timing was right and it was like, “This is weird. This kid's doing a line of coke.” And then all of these adults are like, "Yes, good job!"
Humiliation is a general theme in a lot of your work, but it seems like a lot of your characters actually benefit from these awful moments. Is it safe to say such embarrassments can be beneficial?
Look at Trump: He’s the President of the United States and he's tweeting late at night, because somebody insulted him on Twitter, and you're like, “Okay, you can have the most powerful job on the planet, but if you're insecure and your ego is too big, you're going to be that thin-skinned Twitter troll.”
You end the film before a lot of the story’s questions have been answered. We never learn where his son goes to school, for example. Do people get hung up on that?
Sometimes the stuff I do challenges the audience. Some people are like, "Did he go to Harvard or did he go to Tufts?" I'm like, “I don't know.” I think the idea is that it doesn't matter where he goes. That’s the whole point of the movie. It doesn't matter where he goes.
So what do you tell people when they ask you about it?
You missed the point! To me, life is a gift. The rest of it is gravy if you have the right attitude.