Directed by: Mike White
Run Time: 1h 41min
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Music
3 1/2 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Meet Brad. He’s smart, he’s a good husband and father, he’s a philanthropist but, largely, he’s average. Well, to himself, he’s average and at this point in his life that’s the worst thing he could be. Brad (Stiller) is a guy who has found middle age an impossibly uncomfortable place to be. With his son Troy (Abrams) about to go to college, he recalls what he was like at that age and thinks about all the things he wanted, the opportunities he had and what he did with those opportunities. He has spent most of his adult life comparing himself to the friends he went to college with. This hasn’t helped his self-esteem because most of them are successful, even famous in some circles.
Throughout the film, Brad tells us, through voice-overs, that he doesn’t like himself. His inner thoughts, when he has a conversation with someone, is generally how awful a person he believes himself to be. Since college, all his best friends have done well for themselves so, ‘what’s to like about me?’ Watching his son advance in life to the point of starting his college days, he worries Troy could turn out like him. Another fear is, how will he feel if Troy turns out better? What if he has all of the success Brad only dreamed of?
Brad owns and operates a non-profit and though he lives in a nice home and all his needs are met, he believes his life’s work to be, in his words, ‘Absurd.’ He can’t see through all of his jealousy and his need to have more, be more.
He continually focuses on his station or status in life, judging whether being wealthy or not speaks to what quality of a person you are. He wonders how life would be if he were rich like his old friends, who live life as if it was a giant playground while he walks the earth with bills to worry about, finding his ground more in the battle variety.
Where did it go wrong, he asks himself? The voice-over is there to stay but don’t fret, it works correctly to advance the story. He and Troy take a trip to Boston to visit some universities. Troy misses the interview with Harvard and Brad calls on a powerful and influential friend, Craig, played by Michael Sheen. Craig comes through for him, beautifully and gets Troy in to speak with the dean. This moment is big for this young musical prodigy and he’s proud of his father.
There are several touching moments in the film between father and son. Regarding the actual music in the film, it’s completely theatric and necessary. During Brad’s inner dialogue, generally, the scene is accompanied by a single hopping bow across the bridge of a violin. The sound emanating from the instruments F-Holes directed the mood Brad was in and highlighted the black cloud hanging over his head. Every note heard fits into the scene perfectly; the film wouldn’t have been as good without it.
Troy and Brad have dinner with a friend of Troy’s who already attends Harvard and within her, Brad sees the drive and the idealistic intentions he once had. This was the turning point of the film where he tries to explain to her that wanting to help will not be appreciated and that instead, her efforts will go unnoticed and she’ll be forgotten about. This conversation with her awakens him because through her judging eyes and her voice he hears and sees his own, or at least who he once was and would rather be again instead of this bitter man he has become. He has a nice life, doesn’t struggle, but always wants more. When will enough be enough?
He hears of the passing of a favorite professor which hits him hard. It’s this loss where Brad puts things more into perspective. Family. Love. Time. Those things are important. His son, who doesn’t see him as a failure is who matters, not old friends that don’t call and who, as it turns out, aren’t exactly who he thought they were, after all. Brad is alive. Time to be alive and live for himself, not for any of them.
Again, the music throughout every scene is spectacular. Though the character of Brad is depressing you a fair amount of the time, Ben does well with him, carrying the heavy load, so to speak. Brad will frustrate at times and will move you to tears the next. The best part is that at no time during this movie will you see a character like Derek Zoolander come through Stiller’s performance. This is some of the best work I recall seeing from him. Abrams’ portrayal of Troy is competent. He has a real grasp of the character and is the perfect complement to Stiller’s Brad. When Brad was at his most erratic, Abram watched his co-star and went completely in the opposite direction which thoroughly balanced the movie.
*For more information, visit the website and check out the social pages: