A film can undermine itself any number of ways, poorly scripted scenes, inauthentic performances, lackluster direction. Ostensibly the tale of a man (Ben Stiller) taking his son (Austin Abrams) on college tours, the father stuck in a psychological self-war as he compares his life to that of his college friends and even his son as well. Brad’s Status is an otherwise good film that is undermined in two ways. First, it sidelines the more interesting character and story in the son, and it saddles the insufferable main character with an interminable voice-over that is just exhausting.
Stiller does a good job here and feels like a fully realized character. His character is just a self-involved boor. Sometimes, this can be funny. There are a few moments and scenes that it’s easy to laugh at him, but as a central character, it does the movie a disservice to spend too much time with him. Abrams’ son is a much more engaging character. He’s a high school senior, specializing in music, and, as Stiller’s father is somewhat flustered to learn, pretty much a genius. He’s balanced, stoic, and comes across more real than most movie teens.
As Stiller’s character’s friends Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen, Jermaine Clement, and writer-director Mike White provide ample fuel for Stiller’s jealousy. Jenna Fischer appears all too briefly as his wife. There are a few scenes with a nice movement and point of view. When Stiller hangs out with his son’s college friends, and they travel down a path of admiration to resentment, the movie has an energy that it fails to achieve elsewhere. Mike White is a better writer than director, but he acquits himself well here. If only he had enough faith in his story to not saddle it with the ceaseless voice-over.
My Grade – C+