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Ben Stiller and a talented cast can’t save comedy about middle-aged woes

The plight of white, affluent, middle class men with career envy is real, but with the world in the state it is now, it’s hardly a cinematic imperative.

In Brad’s Status, Ben Stiller’s titular character slaps his metaphorical manhood on the table and comes up short compared to his old university friends, who he imagines leading wildly exciting, louche lives, while he ekes out a comfortable existence in the suburbs. The fire is stoked when he returns to his alma mater with his talented young son, who is set to academically eclipse him.

With its frequent, overbearing voiceover explaining exactly how Brad is feeling at any given moment, Mike White, a writer on The Emoji Movie and Pitch Perfect 3, has made what feels like an unfinished proof of concept for the kind of smart, dark comedy Stiller has made a stock in trade. This isn’t helped by the fact most of the characters never appear on screen together; Luke Wilson and Jermaine Clement are restricted to phone conversations, while Michael Sheen shares only a brief, anti-climactic exchange.

Brad’s problems aren’t entirely imagined – he’s a man with genuine melancholy in his soul, for whom life hasn’t worked out as he'd hoped, and Stiller is a master at finding humour in this kind of pathos. But the film ends up soliciting far more sympathy than it earns.

A clutch of likeable supporting actors, especially Austin Abrams who performs acrobatic eye-rolling as Brad’s son Troy, mean things never come close to complete failure, but it doesn’t deserve more than the smattering of ticket sales it’s destined to attract.

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