First Hit: What I loved about this film was Brad’s (Ben Stiller) authentic realistic internal dialogue about comparing.
Although there were comedic moments, they are mostly situationally driven, this film is a strong film about learning to not compare yourself with others.
Brad is living with his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and their son Troy (Austin Abrams) in Sacramento. Brad created a non-profit and has made a decent living from this and Melanie works for the government. Troy is a musician and has done well in school and is now ready to tour and interview colleges. Brad and Troy head back to Boston to visit Harvard and Tuffs Universities. Tuffs happens to be Brad’s alma mater.
However, this trip brings up Brad’s college friendships and how all of them have become wealthy. He lays awake at night thinking about his friend’s success and how he and Melanie will be able to afford Troy’s education. Brad becomes obsessed with his financial lot in life. Melanie tells him everything will be alright as they will figure it out as they’ve always have done. However, Brad’s obsession won’t stop.
All of this is shared with the audience with voice over as we watch Brad on a trip with Troy to visit these schools.
At Harvard, Troy mistakenly misses his interview day and Brad, after trying to brag to other waiting parents, is now upset at Troy. Being a protective and caring father, he loudly argues with the admissions staff, trying to find a way to make the interview happen and embarrasses Troy and himself.
He and Melanie remember that one of Brad’s famous rich college friends Craig Fisher (Michael Sheen) [as a visiting professor] teaches a government communications course at Harvard, and has some pull, being a well known author and former White House insider. Reluctantly, Brad calls him and discovers that their other two college friends all have been in communication with each other but have left him out. He thinks it is because he lives in Sacramento, has a non-profit, and makes very little money.
This is the theme of the film, looking at the past and comparing oneself with others. Meeting some of Troy’s musician friends, he gets re-reminded of his past idealistic view of the world and starts pushing his position on Troy’s friends. They show him how his comparing mind is his struggle, not the money he makes. The point is driven home when Ananya (Shazi Raja) tells him where she grew up, just having some food and water was a very rewarding thing and that his current lifestyle is the envy of millions in the world. She tries to put it into perspective for him.
The other aspect of the film I really liked is how parents can feel when their child does well in life by making good choices. The sweet and difficult conversations between Troy and Brad are very well done.
Stiller is strong as the self-critical, obsessive, and comparing father who wants to be seen as some of his friends are seen, rich and famous. Abrams was good as the son. He was appropriately embarrassed and concerned by his father’s behavior. I loved the scene of he and his father wrestling on the bed. Sheen was very good as the arrogant old college mate of Brad. Raja was great as the idealist and realistic Harvard College friend of Troy. Fischer was very good as Brad’s wife. Mike White both wrote and directed this film and I thought many of the insights about how the comparing mind can take one away from actually living life as it shows up to you based on your decisions.
Overall: I think this film presented a fairly realistic view how comparing success in the business world with my one’s longtime friends can hamper accepting life as it is.