Like its protagonist, Brad’s Standing sheepishly apologizes for its existence

Photograph: Sidney Kimmel Leisure
Lead

B-

Solid

Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Mike White

Availability

Choose theaters September 15

For many of cinematic historical past, wealthy white male filmmakers who needed to discover their discontents onscreen merely did so, with out contemplating whether or not such a story would possibly represent little greater than extremely privileged whining. Some nonetheless forge blithely forward, in fact, however others are starting to wrestle with the issue. The best, most blatant resolution—hey, simply don’t make that kind of film to start with—appears overly stifling; if nothing else, such self-abnegation violates the bedrock dictum of “write what you realize.” With Brad’s Standing, Mike White (finest recognized for writing School Of Rock and creating Enlightened) has chosen an alternate route: Make the movie you want to, but sheepishly apologize for its existence—not via interviews or post-screening Q&As, but within the context of the film itself. It’s a ploy that could potentially come across as passive-aggressive (especially with Ben Stiller, the king of passive aggression, playing the title role), but instead plays endearingly dorky, like prefacing a request for someone’s phone number with a tortured speech about how unworthy you are of their notice.

For Brad Sloan (Stiller), feeling unworthy of people’s notice has become, at age 47, something of a full-time neurosis. Nothing he’s accomplished seems good enough—his relationship with his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), has settled into supportive contentment in place of passion; he runs a nonprofit organization that leaves the world a better place but proves a boring topic of conversation at dinner parties; and he lives in Sacramento, referred to in Greta Gerwig’s new movie Lady Bird and elsewhere as “the Midwest of California.” In particular, Brad spends a lot of time mentally comparing himself to his old college buddies (cameos by Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Michael Sheen, and White himself), who are all famous, obscenely wealthy, or both. A trip to Boston scouting colleges with his son, Troy (Austin Abrams), provides unexpected opportunities to take stock of himself.

White attempts to walk a tricky tightrope with Brad’s Status, acknowledging that Brad is stressed out about a life that many people would envy, while simultaneously honoring the very real anxiety that such privileged problems can inspire. The film’s efforts at perspective are often clumsy—there’s wall-to-wall voice-over narration spelling out Brad’s every tortured thought and supporting characters (most notably a Harvard student played by Shazi Raja) whose sole function is to lecture Brad about how cluelessly lucky he is. Happily, though, White altogether avoids the sourness that marred his directorial debut, 2007’s Year Of The Dog, and he’s made a real find in Abrams, who counters Stiller’s raw neediness with hilarious disaffection. The generational interplay between father and son is sharp enough to convey the desired point with admirable subtlety, which makes the ass-covering elsewhere seem not just didactic but redundant. Cut White some slack, though. These days, it’s not easy being white. Or, rather, it is easy, and thus it isn’t. Status: It’s complicated.

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