Ben Stiller Stars As Miserable Misanthrope In Midlife Crisis Dramedy
Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) feels inadequate despite his happy marriage and a thriving business that enables his family to live comfortably in suburban Sacramento. He gets depressed, nevertheless, because he compares himself to his relatively-successful college buddies instead of the Average Joe.
For instance, one pal, Craig (Michael Sheen), is a best-selling author who worked in the White House and now teaches at Harvard. Then there’s Billy, (Jemaine Clement) who’s already retired and shacked up on Maui with a couple of girlfriends after selling his hi-tech company for a fortune.
Another, Jason (Luke Wilson), is a filthy-rich, hedge fund manager with his own airplane. And Nick (writer/director Mike White) is a famous Hollywood director whose home was just featured on the cover of Architectural Digest.
Consequently, rather than count his blessings, Brad considers himself a failure. Furthermore, he has the nerve to not only blame his supportive wife (Jenna Fischer) for his lack of ambition, but to ask her how much they stand to inherit from her parents’ estate. Disappointed with her response, he shrugs, “We’ve plateaued,” ostensibly resigning himself to a mundane existence, “This is it.”
Brad’s existential angst is further amplified when he takes their college-bound son (Austin Abrams) on a tour of schools in the Boston area. For being back in Beantown serves as reminder that he was forced to settle for Tufts after being rejected by the Ivies.
Troy’s prospects are much better, since he’s a musical prodigy with a good chance of being accepted by both Harvard and Yale. However, that fact doesn’t shake his father out of the doldrums, especially after they cross paths with Craig. During the brief encounter, Brad learns that he was the only member of the old gang not invited to Nick’s recent wedding.
Thus unfolds Brad’s Status, a midlife crisis dramedy, if I ever saw one. Ben Stiller is quite convincing as the jealous title character. The only problem is that it’s impossible to empathize with the suffering of a whiny ingrate obviously benefiting from many of the privileges associated with being a white male.
A morality play warning about the folly of trying to keep up with Joneses, especially where the Joneses are all members of America’s wealthiest one percent.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity
Running time: 101 minutes
Production Studio: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment / Plan B Entertainment
Distributor: Annapurna Pictures / Amazon Studios
A Question Of Faith
Three Families Serendipitously Linked By Tragedy In Moving Modern Parable
Faith-based films ordinarily have limited appeal beyond the Christian community because most tend to be heavy-handed morality plays just preaching to the choir. A Question of Faith represents a refreshing change of pace, since it downplays the proselytizing in favor of character development and a compelling plot.
This carefully-crafted, modern parable explores a timely mix of worldly and spiritual themes in a way apt to entertain Bible thumpers and sinners alike. The picture was directed by Kevan Otto who recruited quite an impressive ensemble to execute Ty Manns’ multi-layered script.
Credit the capable cast for disappearing so thoroughly into their parts that it’s easy to forget you’re watching actors after just a few minutes. One of the stars is Kim Fields who’s probably still best known for the iconic role of Tootie she originated on the TV sitcom Different Strokes, and continued to play for close to a decade on the hit spinoff, The Facts of Life.
The film unfolds in the city of Atlanta where we’re introduced to three families dealing with serious life issues. Theresa Newman (Fields) is worried that her workaholic husband (Richard T. Jones) remains so obsessed with taking over as senior pastor of the church from his father (Gregory Alan Williams) that he might break yet another promise to attend their younger son’s (Caleb T. Thomas) basketball game.
Elsewhere, we find aspiring gospel singer Michelle Danielsen (Amber Thompson) being pressured to perform at a record company audition by her cash-strapped father (C. Thomas Howell). Overbearing John’s ostensibly more concerned with avoiding an impending collapse of his own business than with diagnosing the cause of his daughter’s debilitating, recurring headaches.
Lastly, we have restaurant owner Katie Hernandez (Jaci Velasquez) reminding her reckless daughter Maria (Karen Valero) to stop texting behind the wheel while making deliveries. She doesn’t want the high school senior to do anything that might jeopardize her chances of becoming the first in the family to attend college.
These parallel storylines eventually converge by chance and in very dramatic fashion. Since it would be unfair to spoil any of the ensuing developments, suffice to say that the protagonists are challenged to rise to the occasion in different ways as their fates further intertwine.
A very moving tale of redemption which not only reveals God’s grace but makes a case for cross-cultural tolerance that’s sorely-needed in these divided times.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG for mature themes
Running time: 104 minutes
Production Studio: Silver Lining Entertainment
Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening October 6, 2017
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Blade Runner 2049 (R for violence, profanity, nudity and sexuality) Sci-fi sequel about an LAPD officer (Ryan Gosling) assigned to save humanity during an alien invasion while searching for a predecessor (Harrison Ford) who’s been missing for three decades. With Robin Wright, Wood Harris and Jared Leto.
The Mountain Between Us (PG-13 for sexuality, peril, injury images and brief profanity) Adaptation of Charles Martin’s best seller of the same name about two strangers’ (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) struggle to survive after their charter plane crashes on a mountain in the wilderness. Ensemble includes Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney and Linda Sorenson.
My Little Pony: The Movie (PG for mild action) Big screen version of the animated TV series revolves around a winged unicorn (Tara Strong) accompanied by five friends on a quest to save the Kingdom of Equestria from a dark force threatening their homeland. Voice cast includes Emily Blunt, Kristin Chenoweth, Taye Diggs, Zoe Saldana, Michael Pena, Liev Schreiber and Sia.
Victoria and Abdul (PG-13 for profanity and mature themes) Adaptation of Shrabani Basu’s best seller chronicling the unlikely friendship forged between an aging Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) and her 24-year-old, Indian servant (Ali Fazal). With Eddie Izzard, Olivia Williams and Michael Gambon. (In English, Hindi and Urdu with subtitles.)
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Architects Of Denial (Unrated) Ethnic cleansing is the subject of this documentary chronicling the systematic slaughter of almost two million Christians by the Ottoman Empire at the outbreak of World War I. Featuring commentary by George Clooney, Julian Assange and President Barack Obama. (In Armenian, English and Turkish.)
Bad Grandmas (Unrated) Crime comedy about four pensioners’ (Pam Grier, Florence Henderson, Susie Wall and Sally Eaton) attempt to hide the body of the con man they accidentally killed. With Judge Reinhold, Randall Batinkoff and Brian Jun.
Cold Moon (Unrated) Suspense thriller set in a sleepy Southern town where, in the wake of a terrible tragedy, a ghost arises from the cemetery to embark on a bloody reign of terror. Co-starring Christopher Lloyd, Josh Stewart, Candy Clark and Frank Whaley.
Dina (Unrated) Salt-of-the-earth documentary chronicling the whirlwind courtship of a 48-year-old widow with autism by a virgin with Asperger’s working as a greeter at Walmart who never moved out of his parents’ house.
The Florida Project (R for disturbing behavior, sexual references, drug use and pervasive profanity) Coming-of-age drama, unfolding over the course of an eventful summer, chronicling the adventures of a mischievous 6-year-old (Brooklyn Pierce) and her ragamuffin playmates growing up in the shadow of Disney World. With Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite and Valeria Cotto.
So B. It (PG-13 for mature themes) Adaptation of Sarah Weeks’ children’s novel about a 12-year-old orphan’s (Talitha Eliana Bateman) cross-country search for the mentally-disabled mom (Jessica Collins) she’s never known, after being abandoned in infancy with their agoraphobic, next-door neighbor (Alfre Woodard). Cast includes Cloris Leachman, John Heard and Jacinda Barrett.
Una (R for profanity, frontal nudity and graphic sexuality) Rooney Mara plays the troubled title character in this adaptation of Blackbird, David Harrower’s stage play about a statutory rape victim who tracks down her paroled, former next-door neighbor (Ben Mendelsohn) to confront him about why he slept with and then abandoned her when she was 13. With Ruby Stokes, Tara Fitzgerald and Riz Ahmed.