By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Sometimes, you just have to see a Ben Stiller movie.
Mostly, because he just won’t stop making them.
But “Brad’s Status” is something of a surprise. And while it may not change your mind about Stiller, it could entice you into giving him another look. His movie is certainly worth a look.
The Brad of “Brad’s Status” runs a reasonably successful non-profit in Sacramento. Actually, given that he drives a BMW, “reasonably” is likely a low-ball estimate.
Brad is taking his son Troy (Austin Adams) on a college tour back East — Harvard, Yale, Williams, Amherst, Tufts, the usual suspects. The trip has set Brad thinking about his own college days (at Tufts) and his old college buddies.
In his mind, they’ve all been far more successful than he has, leading Happy-All-The-Time Facebook lives.
One is a celebrated director whose home was featured in “Architectural Digest.” Another is a tech guru who sold his company at 40 and retired to the beach with two live-in beauties. The third (Michael Sheen) is a best-selling author and political pundit, who’s always on TV and guest lectures at Harvard. Lastly, there’s the hedge fund manager who flies around in his private jet while his children (in Brad’s imagination) snort coke off the fold-down trays
The notion of a son at Harvard is catnip to Brad, a way to one up his…yes…status, with his old chums. When there’s a mix-up with Troy’s interview, Brad pulls the only string he has. He calls Sheen, who offers to help and suggests dinner the next night since he’ll be in Cambridge.
Much of the film is a series of Brad-centric sketches, accompanied by Brad’s voice-over. He’s the kind of guy who’s humiliated by a silver credit card (as opposed to gold or platinum) or goes ballistic when he can’t secure an airline upgrade. He’s even selfish enough to wonder if his sweet, supportive wife’s contentment somehow undermined his own ambition.
The movie is essentially a character study — the middle-aged male in the autumn of his life so to speak. Unable to stop measuring himself against his old friends, he is especially distressed when he hears about a wedding to which he wasn’t invited. “Whether I was forgotten or excluded,” Brad sighs. “ I was off the list.”
The sentiment may be all too familiar to many of us. That’s part of the movie’s strength — its effortless insights into the rough edges of mortality. And there’s more where that came from, which makes “Brad’s Status” far more than another Ben Stiller comedy.
The star deserves praise for putting himself out there in this manner. But there’s still a sense of self-absorption and self-love/loathing that seems more Ben than Brad.
“Brad’s Status” offers many unexpected pleasures and insights. Still, you can’t help but wonder how much Stiller’s star status gets in the way. A different actor might’ve made this a different — and even better— film.