The Admission Process (Film Review: “Brad’s Status”)

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Ben Stiller brings middle-age angst and peer envy to new heights in the story of a father whose college visit trip with his son dredges up his own youthful and idealistic ambitions, challenging him to re-evaluate his entire life since.

 

SnapShot Plot

If there’s one American actor whose entire persona can immediately summon feelings of self-doubt, estrangement and bewilderment – as well as sincerity and integrity – it would have to be Ben Stiller. He’s virtually cornered the market on characters who live too much in their head, worry incessantly about how they’re perceived in the world, and find themselves on the outside looking in with their noses pressed up on the glass of other people’s lives. Such is the case in Brad’s Status, in which Stiller’s Brad Sloan leads a comfortable life in Sacramento with his loving wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and their bright musical prodigy son, Troy (Austin Abrams). On the eve of their trip East to visit upper echelon schools in Boston (his own college town), Brad is wracked with anxiety as he contemplates the enormous success achieved by his small circle of college buddies, made all the more crushing as he compares his own career in the non-profit sector and realizes he can never measure up to their mega-watt successes. As Melanie drops Brad and Troy off at the airport, her bon voyage remark to her husband is a foreshadowing reminder to “be present”. Indeed, from that point on it’s a nonstop series of cringe worthy exhibitions of over-compensating mixed with raw admissions of self-doubt, to the consternation and embarrassment of Troy. And strewn throughout are Brad’s  fantasies of his college friends’ illustrious and hedonistic lifestyles (or so he assumes) as well as his own exaggerated and juvenile ‘what if’ scenarios of how his life might have turned out, if only . . .  At one point, he wonders if his wife’s sunny contentment hasn’t hampered his ambitions, insinuating that she was too easily satisfied with less. In his desperation to ‘measure up’ he resorts to blaming others for the mediocre accomplishments in his own life. He even ponders the possibility that Troy will become a huge success in the music world, and that fatherly pride will turn into envy as he watches, horrified, while his son eclipses him in life. And just as suddenly as these insecure fantasies take over his thoughts, Brad is also seized by intense pride and love for his son, the back and forth dance of which both puzzles and concerns Troy and himself. How can this weekend possibly be a success?

 

 

Parting Shot

Written and directed by Mike White (forever to be known as the real Mr. Schneebly in School of Rock), Brad’s Status is a tricky film to do as honestly as it was handled. Because you run the risk of alienating your audience when your protagonist admits so much that is negative about his character right off the bat. It takes a smart and funny script and the right casting to develop a character this shallow and neurotic as someone worth rooting for. Having Brad’s interior thoughts narrating the picture – as quixotic and unreliable a witness as he is – goes far in humanizing his peccadilloes. So we find ourselves drawn to Brad, unable to dismiss him for being a whiny, self-obsessed navel gazer who should just shut up and be grateful for the life he has. Instead, the film grips us in an (albeit) reluctant embrace of Brad because of the reflective truth he embodies deep down which holds up a mirror to the human condition. Like Brad, we are all constantly comparing ourselves to those around us, assuming we know the essence of people’s lives based on our fleeting or historic experiences with each other, at times even hero worshiping those whose resumes suggest they ‘have it all’. Most of us tend not to admit it out loud, however.

Brad’s Status is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWx0PdOI98s

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