Brad (Ben Stiller) is broody because he is suffering from a very mild mid-life crisis. On the upside, he’s a happily married, financially secure white guy, with a well-behaved smart kid. On the downside, his college buddies — portrayed in extended cameos by Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement and Mike White — have become wildly successful, and Brad is bummed. He takes his prickly resentment and his son (Austin Abrams) on a tour of Boston colleges, and learns to sort out his feelings.
This low-key comedy, written and directed by White (School of Rock), is amusing enough, if you need another go-round with self-absorbed, mildly neurotic middle-aged men. (It’s as if all those younger navel-gazers Stiller has played have grown up and now have dad, not dating, problems.) But even though it’s meant to function on one level as a critique of Brad’s myopia, it indulges it far more; Brad is not even an interesting specimen of middle-aged, privileged white guy.
And speaking of mostly of men’s troubles: Jenna Fischer has the ever-thankless role of wife-at-home-on-the-phone; the only other female character is an attractive Asian-American student whose purpose is to help Brad evolve, while also being the object of his romantic reveries. So sad in the year 2017 that women get written into these reductive support roles. Would it have been so hard to make one of Brad’s successful college buddies a woman? Or — dare to dream — transpose the entire plot of a middle-aged person mulling over life’s compromises to a female character? Professional women, such as Brad’s wife, who are also mothers, have likely trod a much more complicated and rocky path than Brad, who is just sort of sulky about not being more conventionally “better,” i.e., rich, sexy, famous. It’s doubly disappointing coming from White, who gave us Enlightened, a rare piece of prestige TV that let a flawed middle-aged woman mull over how her life was off-track.__