PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Brad Sloan lives an enviable life.
If only he knew it. But instead of counting his blessings – instead of relishing the quality of his career, his marriage, his family, his health — he sees everyone around him as doing better than he does.
Thus does he feel like a failure, as someone on the outside looking in, and thus do his envy and anxiety and resentment consume him.
That’s the thematic springboard for the observant and darkly likable lot-in-life dramedy, Brad’s Status.
Ben Stiller stars as Brad, who narrates this tale in an extensive and exhaustive voiceover that keeps Brad’s point-of-view front and center.
When we first look in on him, he’s accompanying his musical-prodigy son, Troy, a high schooler played by Austin Abrams, on a trip from Sacramento, where they live with easygoing wife and mother
Melanie, played by Jenna Fischer, to Boston to check out universities Troy might apply to.
But when Brad, who runs a non-profit business, bumps into old college buddies and classmates, played by Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, and Mike White, he perceives them as much more accomplished and fulfilled than he is – although that is clearly not objectively the case.
Yet he finds himself frustratingly reevaluating many of his life choices and feeling considerably shortchanged.
He is having what seems to be a midlife crisis, one that may never give up its hold on him and his self-image as a portrait in unrealized potential.
Writer-director Mike White, who directed Year of the Dog and wrote Chuck and Buck, School of Rock, Orange County, The Good Girl, Nacho Libre, and Beatriz at Dinner, achieves a remarkable poignancy with this tale of redemption, which balances universal truths and deadpan humor with skillful grace.
And although the wall-to-wall narration starts out as if it will quickly overstay its welcome, White uses it masterfully to reveal the stark contrast between perception and reality in what amounts to an incisive character study of a guy who could easily be seen as wallowing in self-pity.
Instead, we get a much broader perspective than that thanks to Stiller’s three-dimensional portrait of a whiny, entitled, neurotic everyman who’s nonetheless decent and likable and amusing. Stiller’s nuanced work is the film’s strongest asset.
And although White doesn’t quite build to the cathartic finale that he or we desire, we realize that this kind of low-key, slice-of-life offering can’t always pack that tidy a resolution.
So we’ll feel sorry for 3 stars out of 4 for Brad’s Status, Stiller and White’s deceptively accomplished comedy about the compulsion to compare.