Friday, September 22, 2017

brad's status

Brad (Ben Stiller) is distressed about his status. He feels inadequate compared to his college buddies who have gone off to have ridiculously luxurious lives of private planes, escapades, and dwelling spreads in Architectural Digest. In the midst of his crisis--or perhaps at the very root of this crisis--Brad's son Troy (Austin Abrams) is about to go to college, and the two are off to travel from Sacramento across the coast to tour the top choice, Harvard. Brad is either hazily unaware or willfully unaware of his son's plans and dreams. Mike White's carefully directed picture follows the two--with run-ins with coeds and an old friend of Brad, now a famed political commentator (Michael Sheen)--utilizing Stiller's dryly aching voice-overs to great effect. Like Brad's cloistered, heady character, the picture doesn't stretch too far but offers up some amusing ruminations through his slightly exaggerated inner thoughts. The acting and witty casting choices all around are strong and some scenes shine in their depictions of awkward human interaction (especially a dinner scene between Sheen and Stiller). The brittle violin score (by Mark Mothersbaugh) adds to the muted absurdity and sadness within Brad's neuroses as does an inspired use of Dvořák's "Humoresque." If one takes Brad's litany of complaints as droll rather than irritating, the movie has a sly emotional impact. It's not a transformative picture, but welcome as a closely attached character study, even if the central character is melancholy company. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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