Annapurna 1 hour 41 minutes R
This film is totally uncomfortable to watch, but draws you right in. It will especially resonate with those facing a mid life crisis, and maybe with teens who roll their eyes at those embarrassing moments most parents provide growing up.
We live in a competitive world and, with social media, it’s easier now than ever to compare yourself and your life with people you think have it better than you. But this film starring Ben Stiller as Brad is testament to “Be careful what you wish for.”
The film is very stream of conscious. Brad is his own narrator. We’re inside his head. Backed by violin music, the film sets a somewhat sad, weird and dissonant mood. Watching Brad continually internalize his status in the world, mentally competing with his friends becomes an obsession. Director Mike White writes dialogue having Brad say out loud what a lot of us think, but keep to ourselves. And he throws us a couple of curve balls throughout the movie making us think Brad has motives other than the what actually comes to be.
This is Mike White’s directorial debut. He wrote School of Rock, Nacho Libre, and more fun films. The comedy is much more subtle here. Stiller is is a risk taker and not afraid to play a role that’s not a crowd pleaser. There are no huge laughs. Most of his actions garner nervous laughter. There are very few times when he does something that makes you want to cheer for him. Otherwise this is pretty much a downer.
Brad is taking his only child, Troy, (Austin Adams) to visit colleges. Brad is a do-gooder who runs a non-profit. He has a dutiful , hard-working wife (Jenna Fischer, The Office) She the anchor of the family but she’s a tangential character in this film. She probably shot her entire role in a day. Brad used to love the world and the world loved him. That’s not the case anymore.
This Father/Son road trip prompts Brad to think back to his college friends and what became of them. Luke Wilson plays a rich hedge fund founder, Jermaine Clement plays a retired tech company owner living on his own island, Michael Sheen is a famous political expert who appears frequently on TV and Director Mike White cast himself as a flamboyant Hollywood big shot. White sets Brad up imagining in separate scenes how each of these friends live in their successful and superior worlds, while Brad lives his modest middle class existence.
When his son screws up the date for the Harvard interview, Brad springs into action trying to bully the admissions officers in the most embarrassing, loud way and takes it upon himself, over his son’s protests, to plead for favors from his old friends. That’s sets him up for a rude awakening.
In the meantime, Troy meets up in a bar with friends from his high school now Harvard students. Ananya (Shazi Raja, Salvation), and Maya (Luisa Lee) make Brad think of his days at the school. He and Maya get into a heavy discussion and it’s as if Brad is talking to his young self, trying to justify the life he chose.
The director has Brad trying to justify his existence, as we all do. Troy is having his first moments of disillusionment as well. And that continues for Brad as he finds out more about how his college friends’ lives turned out. It leads to a climactic confrontation in a restaurant with Michael Sheen’s character. One of the few satisfying moments in this film
White deals with an uncomfortable character and tough subject in a real way. It’s not glossed over. This trip shows Troy that, like his father, idealism will be tested over and over again.This film tested our patience, too. Brad is not a likable character but at heart, he’s a good guy. He forces us to look at our own lives. This film may be hard to enjoy, but it sticks with you.