It looks like 2017 could be the year that queer screenwriter and director Mike White (“Year of the Dog”) might just get his first Academy Award nomination and may even take home an Oscar. White, who also has the smudge of “The Emoji Movie” on his screenplay resume, along with outstanding films such as “School of Rock” and “The Good Girl,” wrote director Miguel Arteta’s 2017 film “Beatriz at Dinner,” which has received raves from critics and audiences alike.
White also wrote and directed ”Brad’s Status” (Amazon Studios), starring Ben Stiller. “Brad’s Status” is the kind of movie that looks good on the resumes of people, like Ben Stiller, who need a good movie (see “Zoolander 2”— or better yet, don’t). As it turns out, Stiller has recently been having better luck in indie-oriented features such as Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young,” and with “Brad’s Status” he has reached his peak, delivering the best performance of his career.
With the kind of narration throughout that is worthy of Woody Allen at his funniest and most heartbreaking, “Brad’s Status” opens with a sleepless Brad (Stiller), worried about the next day’s trip to the Boston-area to look at colleges with his 17-year old son Troy (Austin Abrams). Among his anxieties are finances. Will he, a man running a small not-for-profit, and his government-employee wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) be able to afford the financial burden?
Brad also stresses over how he measures up to his old Tufts classmates, all of whom he thinks are more insanely prosperous than he is, even though he knows it’s stupid to compare their lives. First, there’s Nick (White), a successful, openly gay Hollywood filmmaker who can be seen in the pages of Architectural Digest, luxuriating in the multi-million-dollar mansion he shares with husband Xavier (Xavier Grobet), where he hosts pool parties populated by muscle-boys in Speedos.
Next is Craig (Michael Sheen), the one with whom Brad felt most competitive while in school. Craig’s a political bigwig who worked in the White House and has gone on to high-paying consulting gigs and writing bestselling books. Jason (Luke Wilson) runs his own profitable company that includes the use of private jets. Financial whiz Billy (Jemaine Clement) retired early and is “living the dream” on Maui with two young female lovers.
The time spent with Troy is an eye-opening experience for the self-absorbed Brad. He learns many new things about his son and his talent as a musician and composer. Watching this unfold is one of the great pleasures of the movie. Before long a series of conflicts arise that threaten to ruin more than just the trip. Dinner, and later drinks, with Ananya (Shazi Raja), a former classmate of Troy’s, exposes new cracks in Brad’s veneer. When a crisis arises during Troy’s Harvard campus visit, Brad must turn to Craig, the last person he would ever want to, for assistance.
All is not lost, as it turns out, and while some audience members may feel like they’ve gone through the same emotional wringer as Brad, the rewards are plentiful. The combination of stellar performances by the lead (especially Stiller) and supporting cast, marvelous and insightful writing, and a measured balance of comedy and drama, assures that “Brad’s Status” will not soon be forgotten. Rating: A-