‘Ezra’ Review — Tony Goldwyn’s Poignant Take on Parenting

Sep 19, 2023

This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.It’s rare when autism has been portrayed accurately on screen. It is a sensitive subject to tackle, and while it might not be as stigmatized as it was even just 10 years ago, films like The Predator, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Music have characters that are built entirely around negative stereotypes. So often these characters are uniformly portrayed as robotic, emotionless, and even unlikable or obnoxious, while in real life people on the spectrum behave differently from one another.

While presenting his latest directorial effort Ezra, Tony Goldwyn made it clear to the TIFF audience that this is a story that is personal to him. Goldwyn’s long-time friend Tony Spiridakis wrote the screenplay for the film, inspired by his own experience in co-parenting a kid with autism. Some might view some of the content in Ezra as done in poor taste, including Robert De Niro’s character lamenting how he can’t use the R-word anymore, and those who do take offense have a right to feel that way. However, that won’t prevent Ezra from speaking to many parents who are raising children who are on the spectrum.

At the start of the film we are introduced to Max Brandel (Bobby Cannavale), a former late-night comedy writer turned stand-up comedian. Because of his temperament, he has recently been divorced from Jenna (Rose Byrne) and has moved back in with his father Stan (De Niro). While Max is desperate to win Jenna back, the only thing that keeps him in contact with her is their 11-year-old autistic son Ezra (William Fitzgerald), who is incredibly intelligent, but his actions at his public school have led him to put himself and others in danger. Max and Jenna are constantly at odds with how to raise Ezra. Jenna wants to send him off to a special school and put him on medication while Max is weary of giving his son any prescription drug.

After an altercation at a doctor’s office, a restraining order is placed against Max that prevents him from getting close to his only son. Following a career opportunity that could put his life back on track, Max does the only logical thing and he kidnaps Ezra to take him on a cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles.

‘Ezra’ Has Its Heart in the Right Place

Unlike many portrayals of ASD on the big screen, William Fitzgerald, an actor who is neurodivergent, plays the film’s title character. In his first-ever leading role, Fitzgerald steals your heart with his performance. He feels authentic and his chemistry with his larger-than-life co-stars like Cannavale, Byrne, and De Niro feels genuine and raw. Ezra could have easily come across as a made-for-TV movie, but Goldwyn and Spiridakis never sugarcoat anything. There are a handful of scenes that might prove to be a tough sit for some audience members, but it’s nothing offensive or done in poor taste. While other recent media portrayals of autism feel like they lack the knowledge and care these kinds of stories require, Ezra is told with the best of intentions. Some of the film feels just a tad too hokey, there are quite a few jokes that don’t land, and, yes, there’s a point in the third act where the film becomes the strangest commercial for Jimmy Kimmel Live ever put to screen, but Ezra is just a hard film to hate. For as emotionally manipulative as some of the film’s more dramatic moments are, including a scene involving Ezra finally getting to play with kids his age, it still manages to pack a punch.

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Goldwyn’s film never feels disingenuous as there is a clear amount of love and affection that was put into telling this story the right way. The film does suffer from some stop-and-go pacing, as the film introduces several subplots around some of its supporting cast. As welcome of an addition as Vera Farmiga is to any movie or show, her storyline never really does anything for the rest of the film narrative-wise.

Bobby Cannavale Gives a Career-Best Performance
Image via TIFF

Cannavale may not necessarily be a household name, especially compared to some of his co-stars in the film, but he’s constantly popping up in a wide range of different projects from blockbusters like the Ant-Man films and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle as well as in more dramatic roles like The Irishman and Boardwalk Empire. Ezra gives Cannavale what is possibly his strongest work to date playing the role of a comedian who struggles with controlling his anger and is fiercely protective of his son. While he does get to use some of his comedic talents in the film, it’s the more dramatic moments where his performance shines the most. He isn’t afraid to show his character’s flaws, especially as Max continues to make horrible decisions throughout the film, but the audience still can find a way to care about him and root for him in the end.

Byrne and De Niro turn in some strong supporting work as well, but their acting is most effective when they appear on-screen together. The back-and-forth between the political incorrectness of De Niro’s Max and the worried nature of Byrne’s Jenna make for some of the film’s most entertaining and humorous moments. The titular character Ezra isn’t written with stereotypes and the cast of characters around him isn’t either. While actors like Whoopi Goldberg and Rainn Wilson pop in the film for a bit, they are never given that much to do compared to everyone else.

Ezra is irresistibly charming, full of so much passion and care, and finds strength where similar films fall flat. It’s not like autism is some rare condition, it is incredibly common and is becoming more and more accepted in modern society, but Ezra feels like one of the first films in a while that brings a strong understanding of what it’s like to raise a child on the spectrum.

Rating: B+

The Big Picture

Ezra breaks from the negative stereotypes of autism on screen by portraying its neurodivergent title character authentically and with care. Bobby Cannavale delivers a career-best performance, showcasing his range as a comedian struggling to control his anger and fiercely protect his son. Ezra is a charming and passionate film that offers a strong understanding of raising a child on the autism spectrum, standing out in a landscape of inaccurate portrayals.

Ezra had its World Premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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