Brad (Ben Stiller) has a perfectly nice life in Sacramento: A cozy home, a loving wife (Jenna Fischer), a respectable job at a non-profit. But if Brad’s emotional status were a work of art, it would look a lot like an Edvard Munch scream, or maybe a dark little corner of Dante’s Inferno. He’s fine but he’s not okay, and his midlife breakdown gets wings when he flies across the country to visit universities with his only child, 17-year-old Troy (Austin Abrams).
“We’ve plateaued,” he tells Fischer mournfully before they go. “There is no more potential.” His own college friends, meanwhile, have become shining models of the one percent: Nick (writer-director Mike White) makes Hollywood blockbusters and showcases his gleaming L.A. mansion on the cover of Architectural Digest; Jason (Luke Wilson) is a hedge-fund genius with his own jet; political consultant and author Craig (Michael Sheen) is a regular TV talking head; tech mogul Billy (Jemaine Clement) took early retirement with two gorgeous girlfriends in a Hawaiian paradise where every day is Aloha.
Troy’s bright future, at least, is still unwritten: A musical prodigy, he has a solid shot at getting into Harvard (Brad aimed high in his day, but had to settle for Tufts)—if he can remember to show up on the right day for the interview, and if his high-strung dad doesn’t blow it for him in the waiting room. White, best known for writing movies like School of Rock and The Good Girl, routinely runs darker in his own directing work (Year of the Dog, HBO’s Enlightened); he has an unwavering instinct for the rotten tooth, the ugly truth.
Some of Status’s cringe comedy feels forced or simply wasted on soft targets, as in a scene where Stiller needs a beautiful young co-ed to tell him how stupidly lucky he is, or when he repeatedly embarrasses his son in public—who, to his credit, almost never fails to call him out on his insanity. (Abrams is great at acting like an actual teenager, not a precocious screenwriting invention). And just when Stiller seems to exhaust his navel-gazing neuroses, his performance grounds in a revelatory late scene with the relentlessly smug Sheen, stripping away Brad’s twitchy mania to reveal the real, hurting human beneath. He’s still getting older ever day—”I’m 47!” he injects indignantly when the co-ed casually calls him 50—but by the movie’s last bittersweet frame, he might finally, actually be wiser. B