Comedian Max co-parents autistic son Ezra with ex-wife Jenna. Faced with crucial decisions about Ezra’s future, Max and Ezra go on a life-changing cross-country road trip.

Chuck says:

Part road trip, part father-son drama, Tony Goldwyn’s “Ezra” starts strong, only to stumble towards an awkward finish, which is supposed to move the audience to tears. It’s an ending it doesn’t earn as this meandering story fails to create an emotional connection with the viewer. That one of its lead characters is unlikable at every turn only alienates us further.

Max (Bobby Cannavale) is, apparently, a successful stand-up comic.  I say “apparently” because he fails to land a single joke during any of the sets we see him in and lately, has had a problem melting down on stage. Seems he’s still in love with his ex-wife Jenna (Rose Byrne) and misses his autistic son, Ezra, terribly (William A. Fitzgerald), a situation that’s exacerbated when his son creates an incident and it’s suggested he be put on meds. When Max attacks the principal who mentions this, we see immediately what we’re dealing with – an impulsive, self-destructive egotist who’s convinced he knows more than he does.

Another incident that puts Ezra in physical harm causes Max to, again, act first and think later. Instead of allowing his son to be placed in a school where he will actually get the help he needs, he decides to kidnap him.   A good plan, this is not, one his father Stan (Robert De Niro) attempts to dissuade him from, to no avail. Before common sense can prevail, father-and-son have hit the road, leaving Manhattan destined for Los Angeles where Max has inexplicably landed a spot on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show.” Soon, Jenna and Max are on their tail.

Playing at times like a modest remake of “Rain Man,” situations occur that nearly derail the father-son journey. Each leads Max to making realizations regarding his sone as well as himself. As the trip progresses, Ezra displays a sense of maturity his father sorely lacks, and in these moments a degree of realism is present that’s missing from the rest of the film. And while it’s good to see the boy overcome some of the social difficulties he’s facing, the contrived nature under which they occur don’t ring true and undercut the intent.

Goldwyn has been able to call on industry acquaintances to assemble an impressive supporting cast. Whoopi Goldberg appears briefly as Max’s frazzled agent, while Rainn Wilson is present as one of his old friends who has a comical beef with Stan that is run into the ground. Goldwyn gives himself the role of Jenna’s new boyfriend and Vera Fermiga stops by as Max’s old flame Grace, who is ever-so-conveniently close by when his cross-country flight hits a snag.

Obviously, the acting across the board is top-notch and these veterans nearly save the film.  However, Tony Spiridakis’ screenplay trips them up at every turn, employing one improbable moment after another to either keep the journey on-track or extricate himself from a narrative corner he’s painted himself into. That Max and Stan’s background is not explored further than it is here is arguably the script’s biggest fault. A third-act confession indicates far more has gone on between them than we’ve been told. Had more light been shed on this dynamic, it may have explained why Max acts the way he does, which would have gone a long way towards our sympathizing with him.

To be sure, Goldwyn made the film with the best of intentions. However, in putting an overgrown man-child front and center instead of the titular character, “Ezra” ends up focusing on the wrong person. As a result, this  well-intentioned movie fails to do justice by what should have been its true subject.

2 Stars


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