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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Brad's Status is a dramedy starring Ben Stiller as a neurotic dad who's cripplingly envious of his rich and famous college friends. Part father-son travel comedy, part midlife-crisis drama, this Mike White film has mature themes, strong language ("f--k," 's--t," "d--ks," etc.), and sexual innuendo, conversation, and daydreams. All of the characters swear, including the father to the son and the son to the father, and a married man has an internal monologue about what his life would be like if he could have younger lovers. Characters also drink (wine, cocktails) and smoke. Parents with teens approaching college should be able to use the movie to discuss with their children expectations, hopes, and dreams.
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What's the story?
In BRAD'S STATUS, Ben Stiller plays Brad Sloan of Sacramento, a 47-year-old nonprofit director who can't help but compare himself unfavorably to his more financially successful friends from college. Despite having a loving wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), and talented son, Troy (Austin Abrams), Brad constantly struggles with feelings of inadequacy because he doesn't own a private jet like hedge-fund manager Jason (Luke Wilson), hasn't retired to Hawaii like Billy (Jemaine Clement), and isn't a rich filmmaker like Nick (Mike White) or a famous political pundit like Craig (Michael Sheen). Brad's envy and guilt are heightened when he and Troy, a high school senior, head East to tour colleges in the Boston area, including Harvard and Brad's alma mater, Tufts. When Brad needs a favor from one of his old friends, he nearly becomes unhinged with a sense that everyone else in their group is exceptional, while he's mediocre.
Is it any good?
Writer-director White specializes in over-analytical, self-loathing souls who have trouble dealing with their lives, and Stiller does a brilliant job playing the chronically unsatisfied Brad. It's hard to humanize someone unlikable, but Stiller manages the feat with a subtle performance that doesn't turn Brad into a complete sad sack. Most viewers will be able to relate to someone who feels a little bit of envy or even preoccupation with wondering whether they made the right choices, but Stiller's ability to reveal the depth of Brad's neuroses without turning him into a caricature is amazing. Brad's constant navel-gazing goes from amusing to eye-rolling to cringe-worthy, then back to amusing -- and so on.
Also impressive is the nuanced performance by Abrams, who plays Brad's son, Troy. Troy also has his share of stressors (what over-achieving high school senior isn't stressed?), but he isn't suffering from a "nervous meltdown" like his moody father. A talented young actor known for his work on The Walking Dead and Paper Towns, Abrams has a great scene in which Troy gives a wonderful little speech about his love for his father. There are also standout supporting performances from Sheen, who plays a breezily egotistical power broker, and Shazi Raja as an idealistic Harvard junior named Ananya. She, at 21, says exactly what most viewers are probably thinking about Brad -- that he's "just fine" and that he "has enough" but just can't see it because he's too fixated on what he doesn't possess.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Brad's Status' messages about gratitude. Instead of feeling grateful, Brad is envious. How do jealousy and envy affect him?
Ananya says that Brad is stuck in a place of privilege and actually has "enough" but doesn't realize it. Do you agree with her? Why do you think Brad feels the way he does?
Do you think that financial riches and fame are the best or only measures of success? What are other ways to feel "rich" or fulfilled?
What do you think of Brad and Troy's relationship? Is it an example of a strong father-son connection?
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