starring Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen
written and directed by Mike White
by Angelo Muredda Nobody captures the insidiousness and pervasiveness of depressive thinking quite like Mike White, who returns to the middle-aged professional anxiety and panic-inducing Impostor Syndrome of "Enlightened" with Brad's Status, a quiet, obstinately minor film that largely unfolds through the emotionally-stunted protagonist's daydreaming voiceover critiques of his own minimal actions onscreen. Brad's Status positions itself as a lower-middle-class American B-side to Éric Rohmer in its focus on one man's interrogation of his own moral failings, a modest goal it mostly pulls off.
Ben Stiller stars as the eponymous Brad, a once-idealistic late forty-something who used his journalism degree to start a non-profit that connects other non-profits with funding sources while his friends and college classmates (Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, White, and Jemaine Clement) went in more enterprising directions that paid off in designer homes and lucrative gigs as cable-news pundits. Where White's most indelible creation, Laura Dern's "Englightened" protagonist Amy Jellicoe, continued to see hope in small revolts despite her gradually dawning certainty of her smallness against the corporate machine, Brad can't see anything in his future that hasn't been burned by his past. He looks on the Ivy League prospects of his teenaged son (Austin Abrams), the narrative engine that gets him out of his house and onto the road, as an apocalyptic test of his own failings in his formative years.
White has an undeniable knack for creating self-loathing narrators whose innate humanism has curdled into jealousy. Though Stiller lacks Dern's dynamic range at conveying frustration and wonder in a single sentence, he's still a fine avatar for his creator, whose appearances here are amusingly limited to aspirational magazine photos of a film director who took off and became his best self as Brad went into neutral. Stiller's vanity-free characterization is so strong that it's no wonder Brad's Status feels most unconvincing and thin when it strays from Brad into his former friends' new lives without him--or, more worryingly, into a generic and hollow satire of the woke sensibilities of kids these days, for whom "cis" is an insult. Yet when the film stays within the confines of Brad's wry voice and claustrophobically narrow worldview--revelling in the contradictions of his alternating tenderness and resentment towards his son, a talented musician seemingly all but guaranteed to surpass him professionally--it makes for a reasonably charming character study: "Enlightened"-lite. Programme: Platform