I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Ben Stiller is having a midlife crisis. Again. (He just did the 40s meltdown thing in 2015’s While We’re Young, which was a lot zingier than this.) This time, his Brad Sloane is having so many feels about how his very nice life isn’t superduper 0.01-percenter amazing, like that of the guys he went to college with. His melancholy is prompted by a trip to Boston with his musical-genius son, Troy (Austin Abrams: Paper Towns), to scout schools, including Harvard; there seems to be little doubt that the kid will be accepted at this most prestigious institution.
Brad has work that he seems to love — he runs a nonprofit — his kid is awesome, and his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), is lovely. (The movie sidelines her as quickly as possible so that Brad can mope without danger of his self-absorption being punctured.) But he’s not powerful like his old pals the Washington Insider (Michael Sheen: Home Again), the Hedge Fund Manager (Luke Wilson: Concussion), the Hollywood Director (Mike White [The D Train], who also writes and directs), and the Tech Billionaire (Jemaine Clement: The Lego Batman Movie). Isn’t that terrible for Brad? He literally laments that he “doesn’t have an empire” like those other guys, and hence he is somehow a failure.
I kept thinking Brad’s Status was building into a satire, that there was a joke somewhere in here and that a punchline was in the offing. But nope. The closest the film comes is when the 21-year-old college student, a nonwhite woman (Shazi Raja), whom Brad has been unloading his breakdown upon informs him, with an extreme gentleness that he does not deserve, that he is wrapped up in “white privilege, male privilege, [and] first-world problems”… and then the film merrily continues on its way being about those very things.
“When did we fall out of love with each other?” Brad laments about himself and the world, and meanwhile somewhere offscreen the world is like, “Dude, what more can I possibly do for you to show you that you are my everything?!” The only thing that saves all of it from self-parody is Stiller’s honest and heartfelt performance. But how much more coddling of well-off white men must the world do?