Brad’s Status (2017)

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If your cup is always full don’t waste your time with this film. For the rest of us, it is a guilt-inducing reminder that our cup may be fuller than we think. Although it is light on big laughs and it does not have a big narrative, Brad’s Status (2017) delivers a film-length interior monologue that probes our obsession with aspirational lifestyles.

Brad Stone (Ben Shiller) is not ageing well. When he starts comparing his half century of life with a few of his classmates he feels like a failure. Despite owning a small non-profit agency that helps people, having an attractive and loving wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer), and a remarkably well-adjusted teenage son Troy (Austin Abrams), Brad has a gnawing sense of inadequacy. He sees his old high school friends living fantasy lives, like retiring to a tropical island, wallowing in celebrity, and flying around in private jets. Troy’s visit to the east coast to pick a college is a chance for father-son bonding but all it does is remind Brad that he is a loser. He cannot score an airline seat upgrade to impress his son, he can’t seem to even win the respect of hotel check-in staff; in fact, nobody really notices Brad. But through Troy’s mature young eyes, Brad is a great dad.

This is not a film for everyone. The action and tension curves are close to flat, while Brad’s introspective narration is a mid-life crisis tale that sounds like middle-class aspiration syndrome. It’s possible to see Brad as an avatar for the ills of modern society. The dialogue is self-indulgently immersed in the politics of envy and the quest to self-legitimise through material possessions and public success. He is a victim of conservative individualism where self-interest has a higher moral value than public interest. His self-doubt will resonate for many and Ben Shiller is cast perfectly for the role. He plays Brad with a kind of Woody Allen-style angst-tinged whimsy which may tire some while amuse many. His son is his emotional foil, and young Austin Abrams plays the part with deadpan wisdom beyond his years and amusement that his weird father should struggle so much over so little.

The message of this film lies buried under its comic treatment of a bland story. The blessings in Brad’s life are obvious to us but not to him, as are the several reasons to doubt the people he admires. Brad’s Status is a warm-hearted tonic for anyone afflicted with anxiety over what life has not provided. When taken in the right dose, it is both uplifting and entertaining.

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Director:  Mike White

Stars: Ben Shiller, Jenna Fischer, Austin Abrams

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