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Brad's Status

There's no pleasing some people. The central character of Brad's Status is a narcissist and neurotic, whose deep-seated feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated by the picture-perfect, lavish 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 in a running commentary slathered in self-loathing that occasionally threatens to turn us against him too. 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." Played with sufficient warmth by Ben 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, catalysed by a stellar supporting performance from Austin Abrams as Brad's teenage son, who loves his old man unconditionally. "What if I became envious of my own son?" candidly ruminates the title character. Save that for a sequel. Brad Sloan (Stiller) can't get no satisfaction. His blood boils every time he jealously pores over Facebook and Instagram pages of his high-flying college buddies. Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen) has become a Harvard lecturer and TV pundit, Jason Hatfield (Luke Wilson) is now a hedge fund manager with a jet-setting lifestyle befitting his wealthy wife's bank balance, hedonistic dotcom genius Billy Wearslter (Jemaine Clement) has retired to Hawaii with two lithe girlfriends, and gay film-maker Nick Pascale (White) throws glamorous pool parties festooned with Hollywood hunks. As for Brad, he 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 (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. 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. White's script is overly fond of voiceover and Fischer's spouse is underwritten to the point that we struggle to understand what attracted her to Brad. Regardless, the central character is an engagingly flawed travelling companion for these 102 minutes of verbose introspection.