An upfront meditation on anxiety, modernity and midlife crises, movie Brad’s Status explores issues of mental health and masculinity in a way not seen before.
The male midlife crisis is a well-explored concept in films, but Brad’s Status delves into the topic in a way that’s unlike anything that’s gone before. This film is writer and director Mike White’s (Beatriz at Dinner) latest offering, following the story of one man’s journey to self acceptance.
The opening scene sees Brad (Ben Stiller) lying awake in bed at night, worrying about money. It’s not that he doesn’t have enough money to feed his family or go on holiday – in fact, he lives an extremely comfortable life. He owns a sizeable house in Sacramento, he runs his own not-for-profit agency and he is surrounded by healthy, happy and intelligent friends and family. In other words, he has more than enough.
But when Brad decides to flick through his Instagram newsfeed late at night, he sees his old college friends living seemingly perfect lives. One of them lives in Hawaii with two girlfriends, the other is always on TV and another owns a private jet. He feels mediocre in comparison. When he hears that they had a reunion without him, Brad tells himself it’s because he’s a failure in their eyes.
Brad’s state of dejection is subtle but confronting, as it exposes the potentially negative effects of the social-media saturated world we live in today.
The film bravely adopts an introspective voice-over style and while ultimately, it pays off, at times listening to frequent voiceovers about Brad’s crippling jealousy and self-deprecation can be exhausting. It communicates the film’s moral effectively, but be warned that the emotional rollercoaster of this film has many twists and turns. Brad is so self-involved that he forgets to tune in to his present surroundings. When he goes on a trip to visit colleges with his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), he flicks between excitement at his son’s success and his own internal sense of failure. The result is a somewhat erratic and cringe-worthy character, which works in adding to the nervous tension that runs through the film.
Abrams’ naturalistic performance as Brad’s son is effective in highlighting his father’s inconsistencies, contradictions and low moments. There are moments of thoughtfulness in Troy’s actions that indicate the empathy he has for his father – he can see that his dad seems to have the world playing on his mind, and tries to ease that burden with his straightforward, often idealistic, approach to life.
For Brad’s Status, it’s the moving father-son relationship that acts as a pillar for the storyline as, without it, the film would suffer at the hands of a heavy, emotionally fraught plot. Despite the intensity, it’s well worth a watch, even just to gain a better understanding of how mental and emotional health issues can affect anyone.