He succeeds in that aim with his role in “Meyerowitz” and to a lesser extent in this, in that both films are not without laughs but they are wry laughs, in which in this case we see ourselves reflected in Brad’s foolishness.
Brad Sloan (Stiller) is on the verge of fifty and going through a mid life crisis, as he looks back over his life, comparing what he sees as his small achievements and little life with the glittering success he tracks through social and other media of the friends he had at college, with whom he has largely lost touch.
All this is brought to a head by a trip he makes with his teenage son Troy touring the colleges to which Troy has applied. In the course of his journey he contacts those former friends again and we, but not perhaps Brad, realise that their status, achievements, and personal lives are not in fact as superior to his as he believes.
Stiller gives a good performance, though the character lacks the light and shade of Matthew Meyerowitz, and Abrams is very likeable as Troy. While writer/director White’s film is often sharply funny in its observation of its characters, the plot sometimes stretches credibility, particularly when Troy manages to forget an all important meeting with Harvard. That is more of a plot device, which forces Brad to call in a favour from Craig (Sheen), a successful and famous political journalist. This results in what is the best scene in the film, when the two of them meet for dinner and Craig is totally baffled as to why Brad has such a negative view of his life. Despite the fact that the character is American, there is a certain Englishness about Craig’s attitude with which we can identify.
Brad on the other hand is a very American character, who at times evokes our impatience rather than our empathy. Let us not be smug however. The dominance of image over real life as nourished by Facebook posts and so on is something that colours our view of our lives on this side of the Atlantic as well.