Brad’s Status

BradsStatus
In a relationship … with anxiety

W hen you imagine your biopic, who plays you? I always imagine somebody like Brad Pitt or Denzel Washington. Yeah, Denzel would make a good me, I think. Yet there’s a harshness, a frailty, a slap-in-the-face by reality when you come to understand that Hollywood has indeed noticed your life, or yours among lives very much like it, and proceeded to entrust your likeness on film with … Ben Stiller. Yeah. That’s super. Totes flattered. Sure, how great is that?  Ben is the guy that should have ended up with Winona Ryder in Reality Bites 23 years ago.  That is so me.

Ok, well that’s the extent of it, right? It’s not like Ben Stiller has necessarily captured the ins-and-outs and personal demons of what it is to be me, a middle-aged man worried about his child going off to school, his wife, his future, his friends, and his place in society, right? Oh … rats. Not only am I never going to be Denzel Washington; Denzel Washington is never going to be me, either.

Brad Sloan (Stiller) finds insomnia most every night. He runs a non-profit business and can’t help thinking how comparatively unsuccessful he is. His circle of college friends includes a major CEO, a frequently televised government lobbyist, and a guy who has already retired to a beach life. Brad’s problems are white privilege issues and the film knows it, but that doesn’t make his insecurity any less real. He wonders if he’ll ever get to retire; he wonders if the geniality of his wife (Jenna Fischer) has held him back – geez, how unfair is that?  He wonders how he’s going to pay for his son to go to college; he wonders how he hit his age without figuring out financial security. This is, of course, simply Section II, Part V (money concerns) of what keeps him awake at night. The man is kind of a mess; aren’t we all?

Lo and behold, the college tour trip has arrived; it’s time for Brad to go without sleep in an entirely new city. His son Troy (Austin Abrams) is a talented musician and fantastic student; he has a shot at Harvard. Harvard?! Really? Troy has a shot at Harvard? Why doesn’t Brad know about this? If there’s one true fault I have with this film, it follows a long line of Harvard-obsessed films. Seriously, Hollywood, will we care less about Troy if he has a shot at Oberlin? Northwestern? Troy?

Boston opens an entirely new brand of anxieties for Brad; his imaginary Harvard bliss is fleeting in the face of a child prodigy who somehow screwed up his interview date. Then Brad has to weigh the competing issues of white privilege – embarrassing his son v. calling in a favor. The favor itself will involve a metaphorical kowtow and acknowledgment of a peer who (in Brad’s opinion) played the life game better. For somebody whose life should be satisfying, Brad wraps himself up in doubt; then he takes out his frustration in misplaced hard love parenting.

I haven’t sold Brad’s Status very well. It’s not just that I see a lot of myself in this character; it’s that this character is easily relatable for all the self-doubt. While Brad should revel in having a delightful spouse, a genius child, and a comfortable life, he instead finds worry. Whatever he has isn’t good enough because his peers have it better, so he imagines. He also imagines a threesome on the beach with Brad’s new Harvard friends. Life is entirely comprised of how we relate to the basket of goods we’re given, or if there is even a basket at all. Do you look at your more-or-less satisfying life and say, “this country has failed me!” … or do you look at your more-or-less satisfying life and say, “I’m doing ok?”

Brad’s Status is obviously a quiet film, introspective and about as far from bombastic as one gets. The entire picture is about a father and son on a one-city, two-school college tour. I laughed a few times, but, truthfully, found more humor in the film about the Chelmsford guy who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. The worthwhile in this film is a man’s struggle to find inner peace even with all the odds neither for him nor against him. It’s not Spartacus or Rudy or The Blind Side, but that’s what I like best about it. Not all of us are Spartacus or Rudy or blind. But a lot of us are parents, and spouses, and living-wage earners, and some of us have no idea what the Hell we’re doing, and we have struggles, too, albeit some are of the self-invention variety.

There once was a father named Brad
Who questioned being man, spouse, and dad
He found tenuous hold
Watching worlds unfold
But his contract with doubt? Ironclad

Rated R, 101 Minutes
Director: Mike White
Writer: Mike White
Genre: The self-imposed trials of the middle class
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Me
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: My child

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