Silver Screen Cinema

Ezra Review

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Photo of Bobby Cannavale

Bobby Cannavale

Bleecker Street

Rated: R

100 Minutes

Directed by: Tony Goldwyn

Starring: Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Robert De Niro


Ezra Poster

There is an omnipresent plot device that shows up in nearly every movie of the week dealing with a potentially deadly disease. I call it the “third act magic bullet.” As the third act begins and the patient’s condition seems hopeless, doctors discover a new medication, surgical technique, or other treatment that may help. Sure enough, the therapy succeeds, and the patient is well on their way to a full recovery as the end credits roll. Of course, real life isn’t like a movie of the week. The new film Ezra isn’t about a disease per se; its title character is an autistic 11-year-old. The film also has a scene in which a character cautions that an autistic child’s adjustment to the outside world won’t happen overnight. But then, the movie seems to say that all that’s needed is for that child to look a horse in the eye. (I’m not kidding here.) With

that one glance (and its aftermath), the movie loses much of its hard-earned credibility.

The titular Ezra is an 11-year-old New Jersey boy on the autism spectrum. He exhibits many of the peculiarities people associate with autism. Ezra (William A. Fitzgerald, a child actor on the autism spectrum) becomes upset when people touch him. He gets distraught if someone tries to feed him banana slices. And he’s also convinced that metal silverware hurts his teeth. To its credit, the movie doesn’t milk Ezra’s reactions for cheap laughs or as a source of pity. Instead, they are aspects of his personality that the surrounding adults must deal with.

Those adults are dad Max (Bobby Cannavale) and his estranged wife Jenna (Rose Byrne). Ezra’s latest crisis found him leading his fellow students in a school walkout, resulting in his expulsion. Jenna wants Ezra in a special needs school under medication, while Max feels that a standard school with non-autistic classmates is the best. Max’s hot temper also gets him in trouble, leading to Jenna getting a restraining order against him. Nonplused, Max enters Jenna’s house in the middle of the night and takes Ezra on a road trip.

Max and Ezra’s road trip isn’t an updating of the plot of Rain Man with Ezra as a 20-years-younger Dustin Hoffman and Max a 20-years-older Tom Cruise. Max is a struggling stand-up comic whose agent (Whoopi Goldberg) finally gets him his big break. If Max goes out to Los Angeles, Jimmy Kimmel will give him a spot on his late-night show. So Max and Ezra hit the road. Unfortunately, since Max has technically abducted Ezra in violation of a restraining order, he becomes the target of a national FBI search. A distraught Jenna tries unsuccessfully to have the alert canceled. In desperation, she and Max’s father, Stan (Robert De Niro), take off in search of the wayward father and son.

Ezra was written by Tony Spiridakis, who has an autistic son, and directed by Tony Goldwyn, who has a minor role as Jenna’s new boyfriend. The script’s portrayal of Ezra’s personality feels realistic, and young Fitzgerald is a talented, charismatic actor. He avoids the mistake of trying to make Ezra too cute and lovable. Ezra isn’t an idiot savant either; he’s just a bright kid whose brain is wired somewhat differently from others.

Max is the one who seems like he has a screw loose. Max’s problems stem from his complicated relationship with Stan, who raised him. Both Stan and Max have anger issues. Stan, a former top chef in New York, now works as a doorman. Max is probably the least funny stand-up comic I’ve heard in years. He turns every performance into a confessional to the audience about the problems of raising an autistic child. The only time Max is ever funny is when Ezra is in the audience, and the two banter back and forth. I could easily foresee Max and Ezra becoming a touring lounge act. I could not see Max opening for Jimmy Kimmel or even as the opening act at America’s most rundown comedy club.

Ezra lost me when Max visited an old girlfriend (Vera Farmiga) on the road. She provides him a car to get the rest of the way to Los Angeles. Her daughter provides Ezra a tour of their farm, including the previously mentioned staring encounter with a horse. Ezra bonds with the horse, and the magic bullet kicks in. What had been an interesting drama becomes a typical Lifetime movie with an excellent list cast.

I liked substantial portions of Ezra. The acting is excellent. Young Fitzgerald is very natural, and De Niro has one of his better performances in years. He and Cannavale play off each other well and make a believable father and son. The movie even has a great gag during the closing credits when Jimmy Kimmel finally appears. However, I felt let down when a movie that had treated autism more honestly than most succumbs to the temptation of an easy wrap-up. This cast, especially Fitzgerald, deserved better.

In this clip, Bobby Cannavale discusses Ezra with Jimmy Kimmel (who has a cameo in the film):

Watch Bobby Cannavale on Amazon Prime Video:

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