Deborah Ross

Stiller instinct

Is there a Ben Distillery somewhere that churns out these midlife crises characters?

Brad’s Status is a midlife crisis film starring Ben Stiller as a nearly 50-year-old man whose status anxiety is through the roof, poor thing. My heart bleeds and all that. I’ll tell you what Brad’s status should be: face well and truly slapped. The film is written and directed by Mike White (Beatriz at Dinner; Enlightened) and in some quarters it has been renamed Mike’s White Privilege, which is fair — no one else gets a look in — but as it’s intended as a satire of white male privilege you can’t exactly blame it for being white, male and privileged. However, while some moments will resonate (who hasn’t ever felt envy, or does not hope for shitty lives behind the shiny Facebook updates?), it’s more indulgent than stinging, and it’s not exactly a stretch for Stiller. He seems to have been playing these mid-life-crisis roles (Greenberg, While We’re Young, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Meyerowitz Stories) ever since he stopped meeting the parents and Robert De Niro stopped yelling at him. Perhaps there is a Ben Distillery somewhere? That churns these characters out for him?

The deal is straightforward. Brad lives a perfectly satisfactory life, if only he could see it. His wife is loving and supportive (a nothing role for Jenna Fischer, who is always at the end of the phone at home) and his son (Austin Abrams) is musically gifted and may be Ivy League material. He runs a non-profit, which he was passionate about once, and his house is comfortably suburban and much nicer than mine — and even yours possibly. But his one employee quits — hey, says the employee, I can do more good if I go into banking, get very rich, then give my money away — and now he can’t stop thinking about his old college friends (as played by Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement and also Mike White himself) who have become more successful than him, in his estimation, and it’s driving him mad.

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