Starring Ben Stiller. Rated PG
It takes about 100 minutes for Brad to update his status, and it’s well worth booking that much face time with Ben Stiller, giving what’s probably his finest performance to date.
Stiller’s not always the most likable guy around. When not mugging for laughs, he’s often mining his own pain for our discomfort (and laughs). In Noah Baumbach’s 2010 Greenberg, the movie that most resembles Brad’s Status, Stiller plays a former world-beater trying to figure out where his life went wrong. But where this other fellow kept acting out his bad ideas, Stiller’s new character makes a careful distinction between inward doubts and outward deeds.
Here, he plays Brad Sloan, which rhymes well with bad loan. Like the Greenberg guy, he started out with high ideals, but Brad stuck to his, eking out a semi-comfortable living with a nonprofit outfit run from his home in suburban Sacramento. He has a loving, equally good-doing wife (Jenna Fischer) and a nearly grown son who seems to be a musical prodigy. Now that the boy, Troy (The Walking Dead’s Austin Abrams), is heading east to visit some Ivy League colleges, Brad’s pride is tinged by discontent—maybe even jealousy—that only increases when he accompanies Troy on his mission to Massachusetts.
As we learn in the kind of running commentary that’s usually annoying, but this time truly enhances and/or contradicts what we see, our reluctant middle-ager seethes with increasing resentment at the outsized success of his closest college buddies. There’s the tech guy (Jemaine Clement) who sold his company and retired to Maui, the business wiz (Luke Wilson) with perfect blond family and private jet, and the Hollywood mogul who just made the cover of Architectural Digest. (The last is played by Mike White, who wrote and directed the expertly crafted film.)
Brad’s perceptions may be a bit twisted when it comes to these old pals, but he has a chance to confront his real bête noire, a best-selling author and political pundit played sharkily by Michael Sheen, when he calls the man for a favour when they get to Harvard. Of course, Brad embarrasses Troy; that’s what dads are for. And you keep waiting for him to do worse. But as usually happens with most folks, Brad’s baddest shit is in his own head. And on that little glowing screen he never should have looked at.