It's an oft-told tale, in Hollywood: A good man wracked by his envy of others he deems more successful than he at scoring the usual American-Dream jackpots of money, status, and fame. He eats himself alive over this at self-defeating length that's both funny and sad. At the climax other, mostly female, not-rich salts of the earth swoop in to persuade him that, OMG, it's a wonderful life just as it is.
Should we smell a rat when such tales are peddled by men whose bling exceeds all our blah prospects put together? Maybe, but when Mike White weighs in, it's worth following along with the nervously inventive mind that brought wonderfully skewed angles to bear on the lives of disgruntled plebs in movies from The Good Girl to Chuck & Buck to the recent Beatriz at Dinner.
"First-world problems," I heard someone mutter coming out of a critics' screening of Brad's Status, a dramedy written and directed by White about a middle-aged, middle-income family man freaking out while on a college tour with his teenaged son. Maybe so, but a Mike White movie rarely goes where you think it's going, even if it slots into place by the finish. Though it's less a departure from the mold than a meander home, Brad's Status offers usefully excruciating insights into the wild swings between hubris and self-laceration that fuel our daily efforts to solidify a coherent self.
No center holds for long in the head of Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller), a comfortably-off fellow who runs a non-profit in Sacramento, where his loving wife (Jenna Fischer) works for the Government. Even before he sets off with his college-bound son, Troy (The Walking Dead's Austin Abrams), Brad lies awake at night obsessing over the achievements of his former college posse at Tufts University, now pulling in the big bucks respectively as a Hollywood big cheese (White himself), a hedge fund manager (Luke Wilson), a retired tech entrepreneur (Jemaine Clement) living it up on a pleasure island, and a preening political pundit amusingly undercooked by Michael Sheen.