How is Brad’s Status only the second film directed by Mike White, who has been accurately delivering pleasant, character-centered indie dramedy since 2000’s Chuck and Buck? Ben Stiller is back in top awkwardly sympathetic shape as Brad Sloan, who feels his life is a disappointment to everyone, including himself. While visiting colleges with his son, a musical prodigy named Troy (Austin Abrams), Brad teeters on the brink of a breakdown. Having to call on one of his super-successful college pals, played with supercilious smoothness by the great Michael Sheen, only worsens Brad’s self-pity party.
White’s plight of the aging beta male certainly needs Stiller, who has this sort of charming discomfort on lockdown. (Brad actually makes a better Walter Mitty for Stiller than Walter Mitty did.) Too bad White could not figure out another way to convey Brad’s inner monologue; while key to communicating his fractured state of mind, the voiceovers are grating. White more successfully conveys the wins and even more injurious losses Brad plays over and over again in the movies of his mind.
Fortunately, peering into this mirror is not unpleasant for viewers similarly struggling with recognizing life’s successes amongst its disappointments. It says a lot about White’s guiding humanism and his star’s charisma that Brad remains sympathetic while whining about his first-world problems to a pretty Harvard undergrad in a bar he should not be in alone late at night. Thankfully, the movie avoids some of the more clichéd pitfalls associated with most stories about middle-aged men in crisis.