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He’s read the New York Times since he was 5 and can eat only with plastic silverware. That’s Ezra, the film is Ezra, and Ezra is autistic. This new melodrama from Hollywood, directed by Tony Goldwyn, is a tearjerker in its best form: so likeable is dad, Max (Bobby Cannavale in his career high), so fetchingly gruff his grandpa (Robert De Niro), so loveable Ezra (William A. Fitzgerald) that you root for them from the first frame to the last.

Max doesn’t want Ezra to be put in a special school, so in his usually off-kilter way, he kidnaps Ezra to take him to California away from the cold-hearted child services and to appear as a comedian on the Jimmy Kimmel show. Despite the challenge of an Amber Alert, the fugitives manage to make the odyssey with grandpa’s help and that of the endearing mother (Rose Byrne), divorced from Max but loving both Ezra and him. That she accepts the authorities’ decision to drug Ezra and place him in a special school stretches credibility given the questionable authorities.

Although some of these situations seem like setups for pulling at the heart, the film peppers each with a reality that proclaims how we could easily be in the same situation. Max often acts like a child, while the child acts like an adult. When Max attacks the principal, the script seems unreal.

However, the film successfully shows not only the rough side, but also the charming side of autism, much as Rainman did. In other words, humanity outweighs film formula.

Life constantly gives Max chances while he tends to blow the opportunities. While being a stand-up comedian who earns a gig on Kimmel, he has some of the worst jokes ever, such as finding his inner child who happens to have a gun.

One of the memorable segments is De Niro showing his considerable chops when he apologizes to Max for being an emotionally distant father. It’s the old Travis first-rate acting even when it feels like writer Tony Spiridakis is forcing the moment and its emotion.

 The movie Ezra is a stellar summer outing with excellent acting and caution about being a parent and bringing up an autistic child. The imperfections are negligible when you consider its strengths.


Director: Tony Goldwyn (Conviction)

Screenplay: Tony Spiridakis (Ash Tuesday)

Cast: Bobby Cannavale. Robert De Niro

Run Time: 1h 40m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take (recently listed by Feedspot as two of the ten best NPR Movie Podcasts) out of WCBE 90.5 FM, Columbus, Ohio. Contact him at

John DeSando