Angst in his pants
Ben Stiller stars in man-angst film that explores a middle-aged father’s quest for happiness
05 January, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Ben Stiller in Brad’s Status
Directed by Mike White
HOW do you measure success? How do you consider whether you have spent the all-too-short days you have on planet Earth wisely?
How can you ever tell if your perceptions of the worth and value of your life tally with how others consider it?
Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is a father-of-one, happy to be ensconced in Sacramento with his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer).
He embarks on a trip to Boston with Troy (Austin Abrams) to go round colleges where Troy may study. The fact he has the chance to get into Harvard thrills Brad – but also prompts a crisis of confidence as he revisits old haunts related to the college he attended, and wonders what his gang of friends have done. He knows they are all, in his eyes, much more successful than he is – there’s a Hollywood director (director White in a cameo role), a successful banker (Luke Wilson), a tech industry high-flyer who has sold up and shipped out (Jemaine Clement) and then a political mover and shaker who writes books and has sage-like status on TV (Michael Sheen). It leads to some soul searching by Brad as he wonders whether his work – he has set up a non-profit firm that links philanthropists with good causes – is actually worth anything at all.
The premise is nice and the cast is good, but Stiller, who is rapidly turning into a contemporary Woody Allen with his choice of man-angst films, appears to be going through the motions. It is never profound enough to make any new insightful takes on what it means to reach middle age, and take stock of what you have and haven’t achieved, about being a parent and being happy with your lot. Nor is it funny enough to be a genuine gag-filled comedy, meaning it falls somewhat between the two.
Still – Stiller is always watchable, ably supported by Sheen, and White has made the film, he says, as a love letter to his own father.
With that in mind, it’s tough to begrudge its message of being happy with your lot and not measuring success solely by your wealth or social status but how much love you foster. Not a bad message to start the new year with.