Let’s start here: watching Bobby Cannavale and Robert De Niro argue on a New York City street while cars angrily beep their horns is electric. Truly exhilarating to watch. Likewise, watching the great Rose Byrne manage multiple emotions on her face is tantamount to listening to Yo-Yo Ma play cello. Ezra, written by Tony Spiridakis and directed by Tony Goldwyn, tells the story of a separated couple’s attempt to raise their autistic son. Max (Cannavale) is a struggling stand-up comedian; his ex, Jenna (Rose Byrne), is trying to keep it all together and not doing well. Their son, Ezra (William A. Fitzgerald), is causing disturbances at his school. Soon he’s forced to go to a specialized school with other “special” kids. Max cannot allow this; neither can his temper. It’s all for Jenna and her lawyer boyfriend (Goldwyn) to do to keep Max from beating up the whole world. Max’s father (De Niro) is no help at all.

A big part of this movie is words and terms and what they mean or convey. Normal, special, et cetera. There is real care given to the subject of autism and its place in our ever-evolving social construct. Does one push for their child to assimilate into a culture that is still very inconsiderate of those who are deemed “other”? Does one teach their child to embrace their differences and challenge existing, troubled norms? Can it be both?

No matter the answer, Ezra underlines that being a parent of any child is incredibly hard. To this end, the film is an honest piece of work. Goldwyn––grandson of Hollywood legend Samuel Goldwyn––has been an underrated actor for more than three decades and an underrated director for two. Simply put, a filmmaker who makes movies Hollywood really doesn’t make anymore. His directorial debut A Walk on the Moon remains his strongest, but the rest (Someone Like You…, The Last Kiss, Conviction) offer solid, mid-budget entertainment that now mostly exists on small screens. Ezra is no different. Above all it’s an actor’s showcase. Cannavale is such a powerful presence, Byrne his equal. And talented performers like De Niro, Vera Farmiga, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rainn Wilson allow for more than a little goodwill. One heartfelt De Niro monologue is worth five from other actors––a win all by itself.

Some of this goodwill is needed for Ezra‘s latter half. Suffice it to say Max makes an incredibly reckless, dangerous decision for both himself and his son. While the film treats this choice as the mistake it is, there is a light touch to the following scenes that is overshadowed by the gravity of the situation in which Max has put himself and his family. Farmiga anchors a powerful, third-act sequence and young Fitzgerald holds the center throughout, offering up a very impressive, very funny lead performance. Ezra is a flawed, earnest, often-unflinching look at a family doing their best.

Ezra is now in theaters.

Grade: B-

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