There was a time, many years ago, when you could go about your business without a care in the world. Not anymore. Social media shat all over that. Now, not only can everyone know your business – as well as thoughtfully comment on it at will – but can also rub in how great their business is in your face on a daily basis.
In Mike White’s latest offering, what was once a confident, white middle-classed male, finds himself in the trappings of a mid-life crisis.
Brad (Ben Stiller) is preparing to go on a trip with his son Troy (Austin Abrams). They are flying to Boston where Troy is to attend an interview to get into Harvard. When the pair get there however, Troy realises that his interview was actually for the day before, and therefore they’ve missed it.
Knowing how important getting into the school is for his son, Brad consults with his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer), still back in Sacramento, to see if she knows anyone there who could help them out. It turns out she does, sort of, by way of one of Brad’s friends from college, Craig (Michael Sheen).
Craig, along with a number of Brad’s friends, has gone on to lead highly successful lives. The notion of getting in touch with one of them for a favour, stirs up emotions in Brad, causing him to not only reflect on his own life, but to also compare his possible failings with their successes.
With a premise like this, it’s no surprise to find yourself looking back at the leading man’s career. And the one thing you notice about Stiller’s is that it hasn’t been one for subtlety, up until now. Perhaps it’s exactly for that reason of often having his own name preceded by the words ‘funny’ and ‘man’ throughout his impressive career that Stiller has chosen this down-to-earth role for his latest project.
Brad has by no means had a bad life. He does important work, for a non-profit organisation, is married to a wonderful woman and has a talented son. And yet he feels as if he’s missed out somehow when he compares what his friends from college have gone on to achieve. It’s a very natural reaction, particularly as age does come with a natural propensity for self reflection.
Stiller taps into this white, middle-aged everyman profile with a built in wisdom. Big laughs are abandoned for a heartfelt and slightly heartbreaking performance as Stiller explores the vulnerability that all middle-aged men must eventually suffer from.It’s also a shame that other members of the talented cast, including Luke Wilson, and in particular, Jemaine Clement, don’t feature as much as they should.
The film’s biggest problem though is that it doesn’t go far enough. Stiller’s character is possibly not just too average to really care what he’s going through, but also doesn’t really go through that much. His emotional confusion seems to last about as long as a bad case of wind in real time does. His journey should have gone deeper and darker, making it a far more intriguing watch.
Instead what we witness is Stiller having a minor wobble that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really add up to a whole lot. And if real life teaches us one thing, it’s that it really is difficult to care about what a white, middle-classed man thinks.