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dir-scr Mike White
prd David Bernad, Dede Gardner, Sidney Kimmel, Jeremy Kleiner
with Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Shazi Raja, Luisa Lee, Mike White, Xavier Grobet, Adam Capriolo, Felicia Shulman
release US 15.Sep.17, UK 5.Jan.18
Face the future: Stiller and Abrams
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
A warm drama about mid-life crisis, this introspective film taps into the insistent social pressures to have more and more, and that being anything less than a millionaire is failure. Writer-director White is making some strong comments about how the culture pushes us to be ambitious, valuing all the wrong things while never quite reflecting the truth. It's a bit navel-gazing, but also important.
His college buddies (Sheen, Clement, Wilson and White) are so super-successful that Brad (Stiller) is beginning to feel like a loser. He and his wife Melanie (Fischer) have a great life with jobs that help others and a smart teen son Troy (Abrams). But these thoughts make Brad feel inadequate, especially as he travels to visit universities in Boston with Troy, who has a good chance of getting into Harvard. As he obsesses about his perceived shortcomings, Brad begins to have a meltdown, contacting his old pals to try and salvage his self-image.
Brad understands that he has lived his life without ever selling out, and he knows that he and Melanie have raised an amazing 17-year-old musical genius, but can't help over-thinking that he should have pushed himself harder.The script pivots between these issues without much subtlety, relentlessly unpicking this everyman's prosaic regrets. This makes everything seem somewhat constructed around a man who thinks too much and yet fails to understand anything at all.
It's nice to see Stiller in a thoughtful role, even if the character gets lost in his swirling feelings. Brad is likeable but questions himself needlessly, wallowing in how he imagines what might have been. He and Abrams have a superb father-son camaraderie that speaks to a quality childhood, even in the moments when Brad's neuroses surge annoyingly. Side characters add specific angles to the story, including scenes that are funny, emotional and even rather nasty. A dinner meeting between Stiller and Sheen carries quite a kick.
But Brad's obsessions are so relentless that they're difficult to identify with. He feels more like a movie character upon whom the screenwriter God has heaped an existential crisis. For much of the running time, it's hard to escape the thought that he just needs a good wake-up slap. But the film taps knowingly that sense that our friends' Facebook feeds seem to prove they all have better lives than we do. And best moment is when a university student (Raja) calls him on his self-absorption: "I promise you, you have enough!"
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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