After his recent role in Noah Baumbach’s critically acclaimed The Meyerowitz Stories, Ben Stiller is having a resurgence of sorts, reminding us what made him into one of the most accomplished comedy actors of the past two decades. After all, who can forget his earlier roles as bumbling Greg Focker in Meet The Parents, or his brilliantly well-observed turn as Chas in Wes Anderson’s cult comedy The Royal Tenenbaums?
His fans are more than happy to see him once more picking clever introspective comedy roles, over the facile shtick they’ve come to expect from the actor in recent years, when he’s opted for lukewarm romcoms and pointless sequels (think Zoolander 2).
Returning to our screens in Mike White’s brilliantly acerbic comedy Brad’s Status, Stiller is Brad Sloan, a middle-aged, middle-class, mild-mannered man in the throes of the mother of all mid-life crises. Brad seems to have everything a man his age would hope for — a fulfilling job, a loving wife — Melanie (Jenna Fischer) — and a well-adjusted, teenage son — Troy (Austin Abrams). But a trip with Troy to view prospective colleges gets Brad thinking about whether he has failed to achieve his full potential.
Stiller does a magnificent job in portraying Brad as a whiny bore who, despite making all the right choices in his youth, now finds himself unhappy with his lot.
Brad’s lack of self-awareness will exasperate even the most patient viewer. With some brilliantly well-observed awkward moments, this is a brutal character study in “first-world problems,” while never belittling Brad’s genuine distress.
Clever use of an inner voice off-loads a lot of Brad’s stream of consciousness on to the audience, which results in some of the funniest moments in the movie.
As the ever-accommodating Melanie, Jena Fisher is as fantastic as she’s ever been. However, the greatest revelation comes from Austin Abrams who does a genuinely impressive job in depicting Troy as a clever, self-effacing, and hugely self-aware young man.
Elsewhere, there are commendable turns from Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement and Luke Wilson as Brad’s old college buddies, and a scene-stealing performance from newcomer Shazi Raja as a young student who forces Brad to take a step back.
Brad’s Status is a beautifully crafted film which tells a smart, funny and genuinely heartening story, at times way too close to home for some of us.