Ben Stiller completes his unofficial trilogy of midlife ennui in Brad's Status (R), after harsh lessons from Walter Mitty's daydreams and coveting hipsters in While We're Young. Now he's Brad Sloan, a beta male going out of his way to feel inadequate, whose every cloud has darker linings.
Brad has a devoted wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), and a son, Troy (Austin Abrams), poised for Ivy League success, and feels terrible about life.
His job running a not-for-profit business is middle class fine but nowhere near his college buddies' levels of success. Brad desperately fantasizes about a better life for himself and worse ones for them, a corroding envy detaching him from what's going right for him.
Joining Troy on a tour of Boston campuses, Brad soaks up one indignity after another, occasionally of his own making. His attempts at good fatherhood are wince-inducing. The role is squarely in Stiller's range: an actor who can make lethargy fun, whose pensive expressions are exactly what's needed for Brad's frequent internal monologues.
Writer-director Mike White's screenplay lacerates Brad with his own words and later through a young voice of reason (Shazi Raja) calling out his white male privilege. She's part of his Candide trek of insecurity, crossing paths with three extremely successful friends (Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson) and regretting it.
Brad's Status is White's second admirable screenplay this year after Beatriz at Dinner, each rapier sharp about human conditions. This script brings out Stiller's best, meaning his characters' worst. Midlife crises this well-written and performed never grow old. B
Judi Dench takes another crack at portraying royalty in Victoria & Abdul (PG-13), playing Queen Victoria for the second time in her career, after 1997's Mrs. Brown. Like that movie, Stephen Frears' history lesson involves an unlikely friendship for the widowed queen.
Bollywood import Ali Fazal co-stars as Abdul Karim, an Indian clerk whom Queen Victoria befriended, igniting a scandal around Buckingham Palace. Frears steered Dench to her most recent Oscar nomination in Philomena and she already won for playing Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love.
Tom Cruise is always a more interesting actor when portraying total jerks: Magnolia, The Color of Money, Tropic Thunder, all the way back to Taps. He adds another rogue to his gallery with American Made (R), a true story stranger than some Hollywood fictions.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, an airline pilot recruited by shadowy operatives to fly covert missions to hot spots in Central and South America. His clients included the Medellín drug cartel and later the DEA as an informant. American Made puts a comical spin on situations that eventually got Seal killed. The movie is directed by Doug Liman, who guided Cruise to another notable jerk portrayal in Edge of Tomorrow.
Read a review of American Made at tampabay.com/movies.
Tampa Theatre presents a screening Tuesday of Pearl Jam's concert documentary Let's Play Two, filmed over two nights at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Wonder if Cubs manager and musicophile Joe Maddon was there? Eddie Vedder and his bandmates take the screen at 7:30 p.m. 711 N Franklin St., Tampa. $12.50. tampatheatre.org.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1Battle of the Sexes: Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Review, 12W
2Stronger: Jake Gyllenhaal plays a survivor of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings.
3It: Stephen King's horror novel gets the R-rated version It deserves.
4Brad's Status: Another amusing midlife crisis act for Ben Stiller.
5Victoria & Abdul: Judi Dench wins her Queen-off with Helen Mirren, 3-1.
(Dates subject to change)
Oct. 6: Blade Runner: 2049; The Mountain Between Us; My Little Pony: The Movie
Oct. 13: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Marshall; The Foreigner; Happy Death Day
Oct. 20: The Snowman; Geostorm; Only the Brave; Boo 2: A Madea Halloween; Same Kind of Different as Me
Oct. 27: The Florida Project; Suburbicon; Thank You for Your Service; Jigsaw
Nov. 3: Thor: Ragnarok; A Bad Moms Christmas; The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Nov. 10: Murder on the Orient Express; Daddy's Home 2