Opening 29 Mar 2018
Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is taking stock of his life. He’s 47, lives in California with his wife (Jenny Fischer) and his 17-year old son Troy (Austin Abrams), and runs a non-profit organization. Brad’s questioning whether he’s made the right choices in life and comparing himself to old friends from college who all seem to have become incredibly successful, rich, or famous. So the timing couldn’t be worse for a trip to Boston with Troy to visit colleges, as it means re-visiting the city where Brad studied and re-connecting with those old friends – and even comparing himself to his musical prodigy son. But: off they go, father and son, on a voyage of self-discovery.
But here’s the thing: Brad’s too wrapped up in his own “problems” and self-pity to have any perspective, and his character is entirely unsympathetic, particularly because he’s cluelessly enjoying the privilege that comes from being a white, upper-middle class male. Brad even complains before Troy’s Harvard interview that Troy is at a disadvantage as a white applicant without a catchy backstory. Stiller is fantastic in the role because he’s excellent at portraying unlikeable, anxious, and insecure men, and Brad is all these things. Troy, on the other hand, has a much more optimistic vision of the world, and he seems to be breaking through his father’s schadenfreude-soaked pettiness. There’s hope that Brad will snap out of it and realize how lucky he is. Yet, ultimately, he’s so involved in viewing himself through comparison to others that it’s hard to care about Brad and his pity party. There are also too many trite or flippant instances, like the young Indian student who gives Brad some global perspective on his “status”, that the moments of real emotion and connection are hard to appreciate in their rare sincerity. (Diana Schnelle)