It’s hard to comprehend exactly what a midlife crisis is. You picture a middle-aged man suddenly purchasing a Harley Davidson and getting inappropriately into Status Quo, but rarely do you seek to understand exactly what this troubling crossroads entails. But in Mike White’s Brad’s Status we seek, through the eponymous protagonist’s narration, to rationalise the irrational – to make for an entertaining, thought-provoking drama that continues to highlight this talented filmmaker as one of the intriguing voices in modern cinema.
Ben Stiller plays Brad, who is struggling to determine his place in the world. His friends are all successful and making more money than he is, and he’s starting to be overcome by the worrying realisation that he’s already reached his prime; there’s no more potential left, this is sort of it. His wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) seems content enough, and yet that seeks only in enhancing his resentment, not to mention the fact his teenage son Troy (Austin Abrams) seems all but set to go to Harvard. But simply getting by isn’t enough, and this sense of inferiority suffocates him, despite the fact everybody around him keeps reminding him things aren’t really that bad.
To begin with, it’s easy to feel detached and irritated by this movie, as one that needs to earn the viewer’s investment. Brad seems selfish and self-obsessed, unable to see the bigger picture. His life is fine, his wife seems lovely and his son is intelligent, with a bright future ahead – and as a middle class, white man in America, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for him at all as he lists off all of his first-world problems. There’s one moment where he feels sorry for himself because he has to fly economy. Dude, some people are struggling to know where their next meal is going to come from.
And yet as the narrative progresses you embody Brad, you see from his perspective and you start to find a semblance of empathy. He, like so many of us, is just caught up in his own world, and to him, these anxieties and the paranoia of his friends not liking him anymore seems important enough to him that we do begin to care. It helps that Stiller is so likeable, and his exaggerated daydreams provide a comedic touch, as he always anticipates the worst, as though everybody around him is completely happy with life, but they’re likely to be going through the same thing he is, even if they do own their own private jet. It also helps matters that his friends, portrayed by Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson and Jemaine Clement, are all so easy to dislike, their negative traits overstated.
White addresses all of our concerns as the film reaches its finale, it’s much more self-aware than you may have initially given it credit for, as any doubts we have over the lead role and his barely-upsetting predicament and standing in life are dealt with, and allows us to relate to Brad. Even to a point where we take his sons perspective, and while it’s the titular character we adopt the perspective of, sometimes the way he navigates his way around fatherhood is flawed and he’s unfair to his offspring, and we are able to determine that while still understanding exactly why he acts in such a way.
The film highlights the fact that we don’t change with age, we suffer the same anxieties we always have, the same paranoia, doubts about ourselves and other people’s opinion of us. Brad’s Status studies the intangible definition of success, and what makes us happy – and as we leave we realise we don’t have any real answers, which is exactly the way it should be.