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The Independent Critic

Bobby Cannavale, Robert De Niro, William Fitzgerald, Rose Byrne, Vera Farmiga, Rainn Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn
Tony Goldwyn
Tony Spiridakis
Rated R
100 Mins.
Bleecker Street

 Movie Review: Ezra 
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Ezra is the kind of film we've come to expect from the always dependable Tony Goldwyn, both an immensely talented actor and director. The minute I see Goldwyn's name attached to a film, I become interested. A Goldwyn film is typically a smaller indie project, a quieter film rich in humanity and uncommonly authentic. 

This is precisely true with Ezra, a wonderful film with an emotional honesty that shines through even when the film's story goes in unnecessary directions. The film centers around Max (Bobby Cannavale), a stand-up comic whose ability to burn bridges is well known in the comedy industry and whose options are seemingly running out in a myriad of ways. He lives with his father (Robert De Niro) and co-parents his autistic son Ezra (William Fitzgerald) with ex-wife Jenna (Rose Byrne), a tension-filled co-parenting that escalates right along with Ezra's increasing behavioral concerns that threaten to have him removed from his integrated school and placed into a segregated, special education setting. 

Offered a chance to audition for Jimmy Kimmel, Max's refusal to go along with professional recommendations for Ezra leads to an impulsive decision that becomes the narrative thrust that guides Ezra as father and son unite in a way that we simply know is destined for an unhappy ending. 

Ezra is a film that could have easily gone wildly awry and threatens to on a couple of occasions. However, this is an absolutely terrific ensemble directed by a filmmaker who is sublimely skilled at telling just this type of story. The result is, once again for Goldwyn, a quieter film rich in humanity and uncommonly authentic. 

After being in the business for nearly 30 years, Ezra may very well be Bobby Cannavale's best performance to date. Cannavale elicits heartbreak here as a father who undeniably loves his son practically beyond words yet, quite often, can't get out of his own way to do so effectively. This is the most honest I've ever seen Cannavale on screen and it's absolutely astounding to watch unfold. 

De Niro, as well, elevates the role of Stan with a level of intimacy and vulnerability that we haven't seen from De Niro in a while. It's a melancholy performance in many ways as we watch De Niro's Stan trying to be as a grandfather how he never was as a father. 

Rose Byrne, whom we've seen a myriad of times in similar roles, somehow always manages to find the unique nuances of each character. As Jenna, she's a depleted soul worn down by life and co-parenting and her son's challenges. She loves Ezra, we feel it in our bones, but she's tired and ready to trust anyone who offers to help. 

Then, of course, there's William Fitzgerald himself. On the autism spectrum himself, Fitzgerald is given room by Goldwyn and his perfectly in sync ensemble to be himself and to come vividly to life as Ezra. He does so quite wondrously and proves, once again, that authentic casting is nearly always for the best. 

Rainn Wilson and Vera Farmiga show up in supporting roles as friends of Max's who offer guidance, support, and nurture in rather beautiful ways. Again, these could have been one-note performances and yet they're quite inspired. Whoopi Goldberg is also here in a brief yet meaningful turn as Max's manager. 

One could argue that Ezra would have been more impactful focusing more exclusively on the family dynamics. There's no question these are the film's most effective and emotionally honest scenes. While the story of Max's journey to California for his audition is certainly well done, there's little denying it pales in comparison to everything that surrounds it. 

Yet, I must also confess this is a minor quibble for a film I truly loved from beginning to end. 

Tony Spiridakis penned Ezra inspired by his own efforts to let go of fixing his own autistic son. It's no wonder that love radiates throughout Ezra and the lessons learned here feel so honest and heartfelt. Scenes in which Ezra discovers human connection, potentially maudlin, are beautifully realized. 

Picked up by indie distributor Bleecker Street, Ezra is a beautiful and meaningful experience for those who appreciate intelligent, emotionally resonant family dramas and for those who embrace authentic representation in cinema. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic