TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Directed by Tony Goldwyn and written by Tony Spiridakis, Ezra is about the titular kid with autism. His parents, Max and Jenna (played by real-life couple Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne), struggle to raise Ezra (Ezra (William Fitzgerald)) separately since they have very different ideas about what their child needs. Jenna is in a new relationship, while Max, a struggling comedian, lives with his father, Stan (Robert De Niro).
When Ezra gets expelled from school, the couple can’t agree about what to do. Max is influenced by the old-school Stan, who doesn’t believe in catering to the child’s needs by putting him in a special school and giving him medication. When Max gets a big break and is booked on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, he continues his string of bad decisions by deciding to kidnap Ezra and take him on a cross-country road trip to the taping.
Even before I saw Ezra, I took it as a good indication that it had a pretty good script since it was able to attract such a star-studded cast. Aside from the aforementioned stars — De Niro, Byrne, and Cannavale — Vera Farmiga, Rainn Wilson, and Whoopi Goldberg all have roles in the movie. My assumption was correct — Spiridakis based his screenplay on his real-life experiences, and it is outstanding. He’s written a comedy with plenty of drama to raise the stakes. Much of the humor derives from outrageous situations, yet they are grounded in believable decisions a slightly misguided parent would make. Each character feels fully realized and is nuanced enough that there aren’t any clear heroes or villains, just a bunch of people doing their best in a complicated world.
“…deciding to kidnap Ezra and take him on a cross-country road trip to the taping.”
But a screenplay is one thing, and execution is another. I’m happy to say that the drama delivers on all fronts. Aside from the top-tier script, Goldwyn’s direction is outstanding, and the cast is great. Spiridakis had been giving his friend Goldwyn drafts of it for years, but when the filmmaker saw the latest version, he knew he had to direct it. Goldwyn has been directing for some time, mostly TV, but I feel his stock as a director is about to rise.
Perhaps the greatest joy of Ezra is the stellar performance of William Fitzgerald. He is on the autism spectrum himself and absolutely nails a believable performance as a kid who can infuriate a parent in one second and melt their heart the other. It takes a lot to go toe to toe with De Niro, but the young actor makes it look effortless. The kid also has great comedic timing. He excels at the deadpan comeback and even gets to tell some jokes of his own.
Cannavale is also outstanding. He’s believable as a stand-up comedian and father who is his own worst enemy. His decisions are often questionable, but the actor infuses the character with such passion that we believe they are at least coming from his heart. The scenes between Cannavale and Wilson, who plays a friend whose house they hide out at, are particularly funny and charming. The moments between Cannavale and Farmiga, as another old friend, are equally captivating, showing a genuine warmth. There’s a depth to Max that could easily have been missed in a movie without a script and lead actor of this caliber.
Even with everything else going for it, Ezra either fails or succeeds based on the title character’s performance, and William Fitzgerald knocks it out of the park. As with any child acting performance, Goldwyn deserves a share of the credit for getting exactly what was needed from the young actor. That the screenplay handles the role, and the narrative, with sensitivity, is another plus. As is the rest of the cast, all of whom play their parts exceedingly well.
Ezra screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…delivers on all fronts."