Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat provide countless opportunities to share our instantaneous actions and thoughts. Perhaps too much so, to the point of sensory overload. Each outlet gives us the ability to catch up and reminisce with others near or far. But what if seeing the fortunes and exuberant times of friends creates a self-loathing, unhealthy sense of competition and needless comparisons? Meet Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller), husband to Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and father to college-bound 17 year old Troy (Austin Abrams).
Brad’s family and social status is littered with self-doubt and a sense of insignificance when measured against his peers. On a father and son college tour, Brad must cope with his own feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth as he racks and stacks his modest accomplishments with his old college chums’ achievements.
Realizing at the age of 47 that he may have fewer years ahead of him than behind, Stiller is caught weighing his desire for contentment versus ambition later in life. Younger viewers will probably find Brad’s attempt to reconcile his career path to be boring and less enjoyable than his helicopter dad antics. Older moviegoers might find this film too myopic and self-centered to care about Brad’s minor discomforts in an otherwise deeply satisfying, healthy life. But parents who’ve kept themselves up at night worrying about their teenager’s future can take comfort in seeing the fruits of “Brad’s Status.”
We watch in fascination as Stiller’s character feels he must justify his son’s worthiness to attend Harvard, oblivious to the fact that the younger Sloan has the academic gift and musical skills to merit enrollment. Brad’s insecurities don’t end there, though. Dropped back onto a campus, his personal yardstick of what defines success is debated and career choices questioned.
“Brad’s Status” impressively looks at how quickly our children grow up. More importantly, it describes how proud they make us feel. All their small achievements as children amass into thoughtful, intelligent and independent adults in the end.
A must-see movie for every parent of a teenager, “Brad’s Status” has several self-deprecating, funny moments at Stiller’s expense. Overall, though, it tackles the compassion and seriousness of life. Stiller does a worthy job as Brad, particularly in the film’s most awkward, narrative moments. But it’s the exceptional work of the talented, now 21-year old child star Austin Abrams, who carries this story. An abrupt ending only earns a slight downgrade because the last two scenes succinctly underscore the movie’s heartfelt message.