What even counts as success? Is it wealth? Is it fulfilling unbridled ambition? Is it living a life surrounded by those we love? The new movie Brad’s Status forces us to take a hard look at these questions and to ask ourselves what we really value.
Ben Stiller is Brad, a 47-year-old man married to Jenna Fischer, and he’s taking their son on a trip to Boston to look at prospective colleges, including Harvard. And he seems to be living a life that should leave him happy enough—Fischer is sweet and forgiving and loving, his son is an accomplished musician who’s smart enough to get into any college and genuinely seems to love and respect his parents, and Stiller himself owns a reasonably successful nonprofit consulting company. But still, he can’t help but to compare himself to his old college friends who’ve become rich and famous—one’s a former White House aide, another’s a major hedge fund manager, another sold his company and retired at age 40.
I have to say that it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed seeing Ben Stiller, but his certain brand of abrasive insecurity really works here. We see Brad’s internal struggles as he swings hard between wanting far more out of life, and being content with what he has. One moment he blames his wife’s lack of ambition for his modest existence, the next he loves her for her compassion and understanding. He envies his friends’ high-profile lives, but also recognizes that everyone has their own difficulties. His conflicts are real and feel like the sorts of things anyone with any kind of realistic self-concept will experience, especially as we see ourselves getting older and we look around and really try to figure out what we’ve done with our lives.
I don’t blame anyone who’s tired of seeing middle-class white men deal with middle-class life problems, but writer-director Mike White has made this movie with deep empathy. To be frank, most of us are great at comparing our lives with others, and assuming that their lives are better than ours. We’re not so good at seeing the reality. Brad’s Status reminds us that each of us has our own personal struggles, but most of us have a whole lot going in our favor, too.