Brad’s Status is an audience-pleaser

"The world hated me, and the feeling was mutual"
Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams and Jenna Fischer
Directed by Mike White

“Brad’s Status” is one of the better films I’ve seen in a long time.

Mike White has crafted a movie, and a hero, that is sad, funny, smart, maddening and 100% human. Ben Stiller has been criticized for overexposure, usually when he appears in four junky slapstick comedies in one season, but I think audiences will want more of him after the one-two punch of “Brad’s Status” and the (almost nearly as excellent) “The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected,” although he’s significantly upstaged by Adam Sandler in the latter movie).

We’ve seen Ben Stiller play whiny roles and we’ve seen plenty of movies about whiny male characters, who whine in voice-over. For some reason, such characters (unless they’re played by Woody Allen between 1977 and 1986) are characters that audiences love to hate (ironically, but unsurprisingly, it’s often the whiniest audience members that have the lowest tolerance; after all, they likely paid to see a movie that takes them out of their own heads, that doesn’t force them to look inward). And we’ve also seen Ben Stiller play deliberately unsympathetic roles (most notoriously in “Greenberg”). His Greenberg, while noxious and hostile, had at least lost something core to his being; the Brad of “Brad’s Status” has, on paper, a good life, hence, while he’s a far more gentle character, his whining will understandably put some people off. But look under the surface and his particular Achilles’s heel is quite striking and rich and seldom, if ever, captured in movies: a man’s envy of his male friends’ success (or rather, his glorified version of their success).

That is a very troubling, human flaw that is usually buried, a shameful weakness to admit to, but one that is undoubtedly prevalent. Even if you don’t share Brad’s particular envies, you can slap your own onto his, and laugh or wince accordingly. The movie boldly asks you to sympathize with someone rather fortunate who thinks himself unfortunate, with someone you may very well want to smack across the face if you met him in person. But it simultaneously critiques him, pulls the lens back to show how myopic he is, and in doing so it provides a legitimate form of therapy, both to Brad and to the audience. In the end, “Brad’s status” is actually a sunny movie, an audience pleaser. But somehow it makes a rather trite moral (“Appreciate what you’ve got”) seem fresh and well-earned. I recommend you all see it.

“Brad’s Status” is in theaters now.