Film Review: Ezra


Director: Tony Goldwyn
Wayfarer Studios and Closer Media
In Theaters: 05.31

It’s always good to see a Hollywood movie with good intentions, and for the most part, that’s true of the family drama Ezra. Unfortunately, while the movie has its heart in the right place, it has its head shoved firmly up the wrong one.

Ezra stars Bobby Cannavale (The Irishman, Nine Perfect Strangers) as Max Bernal, a divorced stand-up comedian from New Jersey who lives with his father, Stan (Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon) while living entirely off of whatever gigs he’s able to get, and trying to co-parent his 11-year old autistic son, Ezra (newcomer William A. Fitzgerald) with his ex-wife, Jenna (R, X-Men: First Class, Peter Rabbit). When a misunderstanding causes Ezra to sneak out of the house at night and nearly get hit by a car, Max and Jenna’s parenting is brought into question, and Ezra is about to be forced by the state to take an antipsychotic that Max is adamant his son doesn’t need. Max’s violent reaction to this turn of events results in him spending a night in jail and getting slapped with a 30 day restraining order to stay away from his son. Desperate times call for desperate measures, which, in a movie, inevitably means “make the stupidest choice possible,” which is exactly what Max does when he kidnaps Ezra and heads to Los Angeles, as Max learns that he’s booked an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Father and son hit the road as an Amber Alert is put out and Mom and Grandpa reluctantly join forces to get Ezra home safely.

Ezra director Tony Goldwyn—best known for an acting career that has included such high points as playing the villains in Ghost and The Last Samurai and voicing the title character in Disney’s Tarzan—deserves some credit for caring about authentic  representation enough to cast Fitzgerald, a young autistic actor, as Ezra. If only he cared enough to bring any authenticity or truth to the hackneyed screenplay by Tony Spiridakis (Ash Tuesday), which could have been called I Was A Teenage Rain Man. Regardless of who has been cast in the role, Ezra is more of a plot device than a character, and no cliché has been spared (Ezra speaks primarily in movie quotes, doesn’t like to be touched, rarely makes eye contact, etc). The movie is about Max, whose self-centered arrogance borders on narcissism, but of course, the magic of the time spent on the road fixes him, turning him into a responsible and selfless model of human goodness, because that’s what happens when you abduct someone with autism in a movie. Spirakis has written himself into a corner with this scenario and ultimately just fudges his way through it—there are no long term consequences to Max’s choices whatsoever. This isn’t just far-fetched, it’s dangerously irresponsible, and regardless of what is driving Max, the glorification of parental kidnapping is inexcusable.

Cannavale is a charismatic actor who is usually relegated to supporting roles, but has the presence to be a leading man. He’s hampered here by the fact that it’s central to his character that he’s a wickedly insightful comedian who is one big break away from stardom, yet none of the stand-up we see him performing would pass muster for a first timer at an open mic night. Byrne and especially De Niro have some nice moments, and just watching the latter pull some moving drama out of a heart-to-heart with Max near the end of the film is almost reason enough to see the film. Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar for Ghost, where she first worked with Goldwyn, is wasted as Max’s agent, Jayne, and while Rainn Wilson (The Office) fares better in his supporting role as Nick, a fellow comedian who briefly gives Max and Ezra a place to stay, it’s still a throwaway character. A completely out of place and overly comic cameo appearance by Jimmy Kimmel and his sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez during the ending credits may be the worst moment in a major movie this year, and I say that as a fan. Fitzgerald is acting his heart out, and the failure to create a memorable or realistic character in Ezra should be placed on the shoulders of the writer and director, not on this promising young performer.

Ezra is an embarrassing misfire, especially considering the talent involved in it. This manufactured melodrama may have made a slightly above average Lifetime original TV movie 18 years ago, but as a theatrical release, it’s an insultingly silly waste of your time, money, emotions and brain cells. –Patrick Gibbs

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