Ezra feels like a modernized Rain Man that functions with the same fruitful filmmaking that made The Peanut Butter Falcon such an inclusive trailblazer. It’s also a great vehicle for character actor Bobby Cannavale (BlondeOld Dads), who truly shows his worth as a grounded performer.

Cannavale plays Max, a prickly comedian who prefers storytelling over rapid-fire punchlines. He has an amicable relationship with his ex-wife Jenna (played by real-life partner Rose Byrne) and, together, they co-parent their autistic son Ezra (played by incomparable newcomer William A. Fitzgerald). After some repeat behavioural challenges that work against Ezra in school, a proposal is made to medicate Ezra and reassign him to a school for children with special needs. Jenna isn’t thrilled about the suggestions, but understand what’s best for her son while Max, offended by the idea of treating Ezra differently, refuses to follow through; resulting in Max convincing Ezra to take a “special road trip” with him to essentially get his son away from these new requirements.

Director Tony Goldwyn (who has a brief role as Jenna’s current boyfriend) and screenwriter Tony Spiridakis do everything they can to distract the audience away from story beats that could be perceived as creepy. As well as Max and Ezra get along (which also suggests how natural the chemistry is between Cannavale and Fitzgerald), the viewer can’t help but side with Jenna for labeling this road trip as kidnapping….because that’s what it is. 

What also complicates the movie is that Cannavale’s character is too complex for this lighthearted flick. He consistently mars his stand-up career, despite his manager Jayne (Whoopi Goldberg) sticking with him through thick and thin, and his short fuse makes him unpredictable. If he recognizes his mistakes, it’s usually past a point of forgiveness. Nevertheless, Cannavale develops a very compelling performance, and his affection to protect his son, while suspect, wins the crowd over. Max needs Ezra as much as Ezra needs his dad, which is explored more thoroughly through Max’s bloodline during conversations with the comedian’s father (Robert De Niro, continuing a late-career path of playing scene-stealing impressional fathers). 

Ezra is a sweet road movie that somewhat successfully addresses male egos, and why it’s important for men to be more sensitive. The movie’s terrific thesis is that strength isn’t about how loud you are, but how well you listen. Ezra may be guilty of being a bit schmaltzy but, with Father’s Day coming up, I can’t think of a better movie to take your dad to.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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