Updated: Nov 14, 2018
A quiet, moving story about the dangerous allure of dissatisfaction—and love's redemption.
Streaming on Amazon Prime | 2017 | 1h 41m
Genre: Drama, with a little comedy mixed in
Why I watched: Honestly? Because I follow Jenna Fischer (Pam Beesly on The Office) on Instagram, and she was promoting the movie a while back. Her role as Brad's wife is fairly minor, but she is still a delight.
You've heard the saying "comparison is the thief of joy" (thanks, Theodore Roosevelt). That describes this movie in a nutshell. Brad (Ben Stiller), a 47-year-old who runs a small nonprofit, is obsessed with his status in life. As his son Troy (Austin Abrams) prepares to apply to college, Brad is spiraling; he's constantly comparing his life and achievements to the men he went to college with, a once-close knit group with whom he has all but lost touch. Despite rarely seeing or speaking with these men, Brad thinks about them daily. Must be nice to have a private jet. Must be nice to appear on talk shows. Must be nice to get big book deals. Must be nice to have a hot, rich, young wife. Must be nice to have a villa on Maui.
Brad's inner dialogue—told in the past tense, as if he's looking back on this time after having come out the other side—narrates the whole movie. He analyzes his mental state at each moment, and the camera complements this introspection by tightly framing Brad as he walks and seethes. His discontent is written on his face, but we don't have to read it there to know it. He tells us that he wonders if his wife Melanie (Fischer) has held him back in life, and that he worries he might become envious of his son's future success. He admits that he fantasizes about two college-aged girls who are much more appropriate for his son than for him.
Though I don't lose much sleep wishing I could inhabit the minds of middle-aged men (sorry), I did find the access to Brad's private thoughts really fascinating. It's a very intimate film, because it's like reading someone's diary. This makes it equally uncomfortable (we don't show other people our diaries for a reason) and satisfying. And though Brad isn't very likable—self-pity is rarely an appealing quality in people—he is relatable. Who hasn't obsessed over how you measure up? Over how others perceive your success, or lack of it? In an interesting twist, it's a 21-year-old college student, Ananya (Shazi Raja), who tells Brad that he's got it all wrong. Bucking the conventional (and misguided!) narrative these days that young people are self-absorbed and materialistic, it's very clearly Brad who checks all those boxes.
This movie isn't thrilling or especially entertaining, but I enjoyed it precisely because it felt so real. Brad clearly has a really special relationship with his son, and his wife is obviously a gem. As we watch all these beautiful moments unfold between them, it's clear that Brad does have a good life; he's just too close to it to see it. Brad's Status is a gentle reminder that contentment is all a matter of perspective, of priorities, of values. Who doesn't need a reminder like that now and then?
Enjoy, friends! Grace