It’s filled with positive messages about hope and trust and love and father-son bonding and doing good things for other people. But “Brad’s Status,” a seriocomic slice of life movie that depends more on its characters than on its plot, is going to find its most appreciative audience in 40-50-year-old guys. In the film’s opening moments, its protagonist, the 50ish Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is in bed, tossing and turning, thinking about two things: In the morning, he’s setting off from the West Coast to the East, with his son Troy (Austin Abrams), to begin looking at colleges; and further back in his mind, but triggered by the upcoming trip, he’s thinking about his own college days, and the group of once-close friends who don’t call him anymore, perhaps because they’ve all become so much more successful in life than he has.

In fact, the idea that his son is heading out into the world is taking up much less room in Brad’s worried head than the thoughts that, even though Brad has started his own non-profit — one that helps other non-profits get up and running — he considers himself a failure.

A failure? C’mon, Brad. Sure, money is a little tight when it’s bill-paying time, and there’s no guarantee that Troy will win a scholarship when or if he gets to study music at Harvard, and your wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) isn’t exactly making the big bucks at her government job, and you’re certainly never gonna get rich at your little non-profit. But you’re all comfortable, you’ve got a nice home, and your work is helping to make the world a better place. Brad! You’re doing OK!!

“No, I’m not,” he grouses, to himself, in one of the film’s many voiceover sequences. Because, he reasons, one of his old college pals is a hedge fund owner, another is a bestselling author, another has a spread on his palatial home in the current Architectural Digest. It’s pretty easy to figure out, as the camera stares at the emotionless expression on Brad’s face, during another sleepless night, or maybe when he’s sitting around, not paying attention to anyone and just gazing off into space, that his problem is all about jealousy.

Then it goes beyond that pettiness. He and Troy are having a pretty good time together; they make a good father-son team. But Brad lets his mind take an extra step into foolishness, convincing himself that because his old pals are so successful, and he’s still plain old Brad, they’ve dropped him from the clique. Heck, he wasn’t even invited when one of them got married — in Hawaii!

This sounds so depressing. But it was written and directed by Mike White, whose screenplay credits include “Orange County,” “Nacho Libre,” and “School of Rock.” White somehow always manages to imbue even the serious parts of his scripts with a sweetness, as well as some sparklingly funny bits. There’s plenty of both here, right alongside a touch of wistfulness when Brad lets his mind wander — in flashbacks — to his own college days, when he and his pals were brimming with idealism.

One dramatic point in the story puts Brad back in touch with college mate Craig (Michael Sheen), and then with another long-ago friend Jason (Luke Wilson), and the film steers away from the funny stuff. But it should remain classified as a light comedy, in that the humor easily mixes with the serious elements, and they all smoothly balance out as being parts of life.
The main message is that success isn’t everything. In a couple of cases here, it’s far from it. There are too many other parts that can get in the way of happiness, satisfaction, peace of mind. But White has fashioned a near-perfect ending, with a touching piece of dialogue that’s meaningfully delivered by Stiller. Audiences will leave the film on a high note.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“Brad’s Status”
Written and directed by Mike White
With Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jenna Fischer
Rated R