Brad (Ben Stiller) has anxiety. He has insomnia and a general sense of discomfit, ennui and malaise. There’s no reason for Brad to feel this way — he has a nice suburban home, a sweet wife (Jenna Fischer), a smart son. But what Brad doesn’t have is status. The kind of status (and most importantly, money) attained by his successful college friends. For Brad, his lack of status obliterates every good thing in his life.
In “Brad’s Status,” director (and co-star) Mike White dives into the life comparison trap that’s become so virulent in the social media age. This midlife crisis falls on the week of his son’s college tour to the East Coast, where Brad and his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), explore what life might be like as a Harvard man.
While Brad shepherds his son around Cambridge, he reflects on his own college days at Tufts, the tight-knit group of guys who went on to become hedge-fund managers (Luke Wilson), political pundits (Michael Sheen), tech moguls (Jemaine Clement) and movie directors (White). In contrast, Brad’s online magazine failed and now he runs a small nonprofit.
His imagination fueled by rumor, jealousy and Instagram, Brad pictures the perfectly filtered lives of his comrades, all slow-mo images of private jets and sandy beaches and opulent weddings.
It’s relevant that success is never the issue at hand — it’s status, always status. Brad is successful to any outside observer, including Troy’s friend (Shazi Raja), a bright-eyed junior who calls him out on his white male privilege, who points out that he’s doing great.
It’s crucial that Brad gets called out after all of his moping and sulking at the indignities the world has inflicted upon him. But we can’t hate Brad, because Brad is the worst and best parts of us.
When he finally learns to settle into the moment, to find contentment in the things he already experiences, it’s a beautiful and quiet revelation, rendered with White’s singular sensitivity and gentle touch. Social media? It’s all a lie. Status? It’s just a social construct. All we need is the here and now.
Rated R for language. 1:41. Kentucky.