The central character of Brad’s Status is a narcissist and neurotic, whose feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated by the picture-perfect lifestyles of the people he once knew.
As the title of writer-director Mike White’s navel-gazing comedy drama intimates, this malcontent is gripped by a nasty case of social media envy.
“The world hated me and the feeling was mutual,” mithers Brad (Ben Stiller) in a running commentary slathered in self-loathing that occasionally threatens to turn us against him too.
His blood boils every time he jealously pores over Facebook and Instagram pages of his high-flying college buddies while he has traded in capitalism for idealism to work in Sacramento as a social media consultant for a non-profit company.
Brad’s understanding wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) reassures her man that life is sweet as she drives him to the airport to accompany their musically gifted son Troy (Austin Abrams) to admission interviews at east coast universities.
The field trip should be a perfect opportunity for father and son to bond. Instead, Brad’s self-obsessive nature threats to derail Troy’s academic dreams.
Just when it seems he might become unbearable, a savvy Harvard student (Shazi Raja) calls out the self-absorbed protagonist on his first world problems and white privilege.
“Don’t ask me to feel sorry for you,” she tells Brad firmly. “Trust me – you have enough.”
Brad’s Status is a well-observed portrait of middle-age malaise, galvanised by the on-screen chemistry between Stiller and Abrams.
Their scenes together have a natural tension and awkwardness that rings true.
Regardless, the central character is an engagingly flawed travelling companion for these 102 minutes of verbose introspection.
Played with sufficient warmth by Stiller to retain our empathy if not our sympathy, the eponymous grouch is repeatedly reminded of the true riches in his miserablist existence: his adoring wife and child.
Refreshingly, there is no neat and tidy catharsis in White’s barbed script but there is certainly hope.