How did we get here? Life can fly by in a flash, and that old adage about it being a race just brings up the idea that when viewed that way, there may be a competitive streak in all of us hoping to “win.” That’s the case for Brad Sloane (Ben Stiller), an angst-filled father whose doubts about his life’s path are only exacerbated by a trip to the East Coast with his son Troy (Austin Abrams) to visit colleges in Brad’s Status.
This pending milestone is leading Brad to sleepless nights wondering if his middle class life in Sacramento that he’s dedicated to starting a non-profit has been enough. Writer/director Mike White, who also makes a cameo in the film, also hits on an all too prominent theme in this social media age, watching Brad measure his life against those of his seemingly more successful college friends who have grown apart, at least from Brad, in their adulthood. Among them are a smug White House staffer turned author (Michael Sheen), a family man hedge fund king (Luke Wilson), a tech maven who retired early (Jemaine Clement) and a Hollywood director (White).
Simply put, Brad is worried he’s not keeping up with the Joneses, wondering how his life would have turned out if he had sold out, if he hadn’t fallen for his wife’s (Jenna Fischer) idealism and had ended up with someone who pushed him more and even questioning if his life would have turned out different with a more prestigious school. All these notions get put to the test over this visit to colleges with his son, as he begins to see that his son might have a chance to even eclipse his own dreams, something that both makes him proud but also threatens him a bit at the same time.
Luckily for Brad, this trip turns out to be exactly what was needed to help set him straight. A meeting with one of Troy’s former classmates at Harvard reminds Brad of his youthful idealism and he sparks a connection with the striking college student (Shazi Raja) who sets him straight after he unloads his life’s doubts. Meanwhile, a scheduling snafu with Troy’s Harvard interview forces Brad to reach out to his estranged friends leading to realizations about his own life and those of others as well as a confrontation that was a long time coming. And, through this bit of catharsis, he’s able to stop competing and rediscover the joy in his life, while embracing this special moment in time with his son as well.
Brad’s Status? It’s complicated. It’s messy. It’s a bit neurotic and self-absorbed. But it is a work in progress that writer/director White fills with understated humor and compassion.