Saturday, April 20, 2024

“EZRA”

THE STORY – New Jersey stand-up Max tells stories, not jokes, about ordinary chaos. And there is no better source of chaos in his life than his son, Ezra. Diagnosed with autism, Ezra is precocious and precarious: he’s been reading The New York Times since he was five, but his impulsive behavior often gets him into trouble and sometimes even poses a danger to himself and others. A doctor insists Ezra be sent to a special school and medicated. Ezra’s mom, Jenna, who shares custody with Max, is inclined to go along with the program, but Max will have none of it. One night, Max, who has been promised a spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, takes Ezra on a cross-country excursion — without the permission of Jenna or his father, whose car Max has “borrowed.”

THE CAST – Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Vera Farmiga, Whoopi Goldberg, Rainn Wilson, Tony Goldwyn, William A. Fitzgerald & Robert De Niro

THE TEAM – Tony Goldwyn (Director) & Tony Spiridakis (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes


There’s no shortage of films tackling autism to some degree, though few treat it with the sincerity it requires. Most recently, Sia’s film “Music” faced intense scrutiny for its handling of a character with autism and its general lack of sensitivity. Thanks to director Tony Goldwyn and writer Tony Spiridakis, “Ezra” approaches autism with more heart and authenticity. Birthed from Spiridakis’ own experiences as a father of an autistic child, the film takes a very real look at the difficulties — and joys — of parenting a child on the autism spectrum. While the script takes one too many melodramatic turns, there’s a lot to admire about this genuine approach to a familiar story.

Bobby Cannavale stars as Max, a mildly successful stand-up comedian trying to break further into the business. He’s also the proud dad of Ezra, played by autistic actor William Fitzgerald. Max shares custody of the 11-year-old with his mom, Jenna (Rose Byrne), who both manage to co-parent fairly well despite minor disagreements here and there. However, Max still struggles to let go of Jenna and cries after one-night stands. He also lives with his dad Stan (Robert De Niro), who isn’t shy about wanting Max to get his life together. When Ezra leads a minor revolution in his elementary school classroom (potentially inspired by Max and Ezra’s “Breaking Bad” binge the weekend before), his school threatens to remove him, believing he needs a more specialized education. Making matters worse, after Ezra runs out of the house and is almost hit by a car, the doctor demands that he take antipsychotic medication, against Max’s wishes.

Cannavale has never been better than he is in “Ezra.” He captures the reality of being a regular dad, the frustrations of balancing his career with obligations to his son, and his profound love for Ezra. Parenting is complex and challenging, but Cannavale embodies the love that never disappears, even when things in life get tricky. He and Fitzgerald have great chemistry together. Despite no previous film experience, Fitzgerald keeps up with Cannavale and the rest of the ensemble seamlessly. He’s hilarious when he needs to be and displays confident strength when pushing back against the adults. Even when struggling with his autism, like screaming at any physical touch, Fitzgerald never overplays the role. Ezra, Max, and Stan truly feel like three generations in the same family. Cannavale even has the same De Niro squint from time to time aiding in the believability of their casting.

After Ezra’s prescription from the doctor, the story begins to veer heavily into the melodramatic. Struggling to figure out what care Ezra needs and clashing with Jenna over the right decisions, Max loses it and decides to take Ezra on a cross-country road trip, which he conveniently doesn’t tell anyone about. In other words, he straight-up kidnaps Ezra. What began as a well-meaning story about parenting a child with special needs takes a hard right turn into an over-the-top, illogical tale about a reckless father. It’s not really cute or endearing; rather, it’s just a frustrating story choice that completely changes the experience of enjoying what came before. When new characters show up along the journey, like Max’s old friend Grace (Vera Farmiga) and old comic buddy Nick (Rainn Wilson), they’re now just aiding and abetting a fugitive, which is absurd.

That’s not to say that all is lost once “Ezra” takes this silly turn. There are still many beautiful parenting moments found underneath the overdramatic story. Though they’ve always been well-meaning parents, Max and Jenna realize they haven’t listened to Ezra enough. They’ve been choosing what’s best for him without hearing what Ezra’s going through. But, the film avoids easy answers and acknowledges that this journey will require sacrifice. Max has big opportunities in front of him, specifically auditioning for “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” but he has to balance caring for his kid and pursuing his career and dreams. As is true to life, finding that balance doesn’t always work out.

Whenever “Ezra” is dealing with the day-to-day of raising an autistic child, it’s pretty effective. So many parents, even those without children requiring extra attention, can relate to the difficulties of co-parenting, making tough decisions, and being fully present with their children. This ensemble and Goldwyn’s sensitive direction feel lived-in and honest every step of the way, even when the narrative gets away from them. “Ezra” doesn’t always work, but there’s much good to be found within the performances from the likable cast.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A palpable authenticity makes the relationships feel lived in and the emotion genuine. The performances across the board shine, especially from Bobby Cannavale and newcomer William Fitzgerald.

THE BAD - Though the story starts in a believable place, it veers drastically into the melodramatic. Characters make foolish, unrelatable choices that hinder investment into the story.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howathttps://nextbestpicture.com
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A palpable authenticity makes the relationships feel lived in and the emotion genuine. The performances across the board shine, especially from Bobby Cannavale and newcomer William Fitzgerald.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Though the story starts in a believable place, it veers drastically into the melodramatic. Characters make foolish, unrelatable choices that hinder investment into the story.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"EZRA"