Ezra movie poster

Ezra

In theaters May 31, 2024

Rated

100 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

2024 has been a rough year for films domestically, but distributor Bleeker Street is proving to be the little company that can, distributing the well received Holocaust drama One Life, unique and quirky Sasquatch Sunset, and now family drama Ezra in consecutive months.

Real-life couple Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne, who have starred together in several films, play a divorced couple co-parenting their 11-year-old son Ezra (William Fitzgerald), who is on the Autism spectrum. Jenna (Byrne) is the more stable parent, holding down a steady job and dating Bruce (Tony Goldwyn), while Max (Cannavale) is a struggling stand-up comedian with anger issues. He lives with his dad, Stan (Robert De Niro), and still pines for his ex-wife. Max is determined for Ezra to be treated like a typical child, but Ezra faces challenges at his mainstream school, described as “a danger to himself and others” by the principal. Max, however, blames the system, doctors, and everyone else for failing his son.

Ezra, affectionately called Ezzie by his parents, communicated only in grunts, growls, and ear-piercing screams for years, but now “won’t shut up,” as Max describes. Despite being more communicative as a tween, Ezra still has many issues his parents are trying to navigate. He is fearful of physical affection and can only be calmed by the light rubbing of his ear. His behavior at school puts him at risk of expulsion, and after sneaking out and injuring himself, he is prescribed anti-psychotic drugs to curb his behavior.

After an altercation with Ezra’s doctor, Max is forced to stay away from his son, but he defies this order and takes Ezra on a road trip in the middle of the night. Their adventure, which includes visiting Max’s best friend Nick (Rainn Wilson) and traveling west for Max’s appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, forms the core of the film. Ezra does not shy away from the challenges of parenting a special needs child, with a particularly difficult scene where Max attempts to flee a police roadblock.

Ezra is a story about relationships. Max’s complex relationship with his ex-wife, his strained relationship with his father, and most of all, his desire to have the perfect relationship and life for his son. Max at one point states something to the effect of “Austism comes from the Greek to mean ‘in your world.’ But I don’t want him in his own world. I want him in this world.” More than anything, Max wants to protect his child.

Tony Goldwyn stars, directs, and produces this independent film, written and inspired by the life of screenwriter Tony Spiridakis, who experienced a similar journey with his own Autistic son. Goldwyn auditioned over 100 children for the role of Ezra, finding Fitzgerald just weeks before filming began. Fitzgerald’s natural chemistry with De Niro and Cannavale, with whom he shares most scenes, showcases Goldwyn’s successful casting choice. Despite being a newcomer, Fitzgerald steals nearly every scene, an impressive feat alongside Emmy and Oscar-winning actors. Goldwyn even allowed Fitzgerald to improvise, bringing a natural feel to the film.

Byrne delivers a delightful performance, exuding warmth, fear, and respect as she balances caring for her child and managing her relationship with Max. Cannavale tackles one of his most challenging roles as a flawed father, eliciting both frustration and sympathy from the audience. Vera Farmiga, Rainn Wilson, and Whoopi Goldberg complete the stellar cast.

Ezra is full of heart and humor but is not always easy to watch. Max’s struggles to parent Ezra effectively are gut-wrenching, making this a film that pulls at the heartstrings. Be sure to bring tissues, as Spiridakis’s script is both moving and deeply resonant.

Ezra is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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