Review: Lackadaisical plotting chokes solid performances in ‘Ezra’

Robert De Niro, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, and William A. Fitzgerald in Ezra (Courtesy Closer Media)

You probably won’t find a better cast for a movie this year than “Ezra,” the story of divorced parents struggling to raise their autistic son as best they can.

Bobby Cannavale stars as Max, Ezra’s father who is a flailing stand-up comedian who once successfully wrote for others comics but is now concentrating on his own material. Max is talented but has anger issues that further complicates all of his relationships.

Rose Byrne plays the boy’s mom, Jenna, who has custody of Ezra, played by William Fitzgerald, a young actor who is on the spectrum himself. Fitzgerald’s performance is the highlight of the movie. Robert De Niro portrays Max’s dad and Ezra’s “Pop Pop,” Stan/

Tony Goldwyn not only plays Jenna’s new husband but also directs the film, which features supporting roles by the likes of Whoopie Goldberg, Rainn Wilson, and Vera Farmiga. Unquestionably the film is well-acted.

Ezra is struggling with mainstream schooling, and is kicked out of his elementary school for constantly disrupting his class and endangering students when he sparks a chaotic mass exodus from his classroom by quoting a famous line from a movie.

After Max verbally explodes at a parent teacher conference, Ezra overhears Jenna’s new husband sarcastically and jokingly threaten Max’s life to amuse and calm his wife. Misunderstanding the situation, Ezra bolts from their apartment, is scared by a barking down, and rushes into the street and is nearly smashed by a car.

This essentially sets up a situation where Max kidnaps/rescues Ezra from his mom’s house at night. The two end up fleeing to see an old friend who runs a summer camp for kids. When Max is offered a guest appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the road trip extends west to Los Angeles.

After an amber alert is issued for Ezra, Jenna and Stan join up to try to catch up with Max before the authorities do.

The film clearly falls into dramatic-comedy territory, but unfortunately that mix is ineffective in this film that plays tug of war with itself. The comedy undercuts the drama and vice-versa making the movie a very uneven experience.

The set-up for the film is very solid, but once Max and Ezra’s road trip begins, the movie struggles with bits that are kind of amusing but nonsensical in what is set up to be a realistic film.

There’s not a bad performance in the movie, but the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the story unravels as the second half of the film plays out more like a series vignettes than a well-plotted story. The film does a solid job of detailing the journey that raising a child on the spectrum is, but the script could have used more fine tuning.

The chemistry between Fitzgerald and Cannavale makes the movie worthwhile. Really the performances throughout are very good, but the movie just doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself once Max and Ezra hit the road.

(R) 1 hr. 40 min.
Grade: C

New in Local Theaters – May 31, 2024

  • Ezra (R) 1 hr. 40 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • Summer Camp (PG-13) 1 hr. 36 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • In a Violent Nature (NR) 1 hr. 34 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square,Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • The Muppet Movie (G) 1 hr. 40 min. (trailer)
    Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills

Favorite Films Year by Year (1990-94)

This week we continue the countdown of some of the best films from yesteryear with the early to mid 1990s.

Looking back, this was a particularly great period for movies, at least for my tastes. I had a legitimately hard time making a final choice for my favorite movie each year.

If I sat down to try it again in six months, I’m guessing I might have some different choices, but here is my verdict at this point in time.

This was a great period for Disney animated films with three finishing as the top-grossing movie of the year during a five-year span. It’s a period where Oscar voters seemed to be more in line with mainstream tastes than they currently are today. That opinion might stem from my age. I was in my 20s during this period, while today I’m inching out of what would be considered middle-age.


Top Grossing: The Lion King
Many consider this to be THE best Disney animated feature of all time. I wouldn’t put it at the top myself, but why quibble. This jungle take on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is a wonderful film that in my opinion is far superior to the more recent CGI remake.

Oscar Winner and My Favorite: Forrest Gump
My taste usually doesn’t line up with that of Oscar voters, but “Forrest Gump” is a top-50 movie in my book. I would not argue with anyone that says “The Shawshank Redemption” is the best movie of this year. It’s a great film that I really considered putting first, but I just relate more to Tom Hanks’ Gump than I do to Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne. It would also be hard for me to pick between Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan or Morgan Freeman as Red. Two excellent supporting performances in what I feel are the top two movies of 1994.


Top Grossing: Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg’s one of my all-time favorite filmmakers along with John Ford and Frank Capra,. “Jurassic Park” is a wonderfully made thrill ride from beginning to end. The film’s over three decades old and it holds up perfectly well today.

Oscar Winner: Schindler’s List
While “Jurassic Park” raked in all the dough, Spielberg won his lone Best Picture Oscar for the riveting “Schindler’s List.” This touching, superbly constructed film is a disturbing but necessary watch for every film buff.

My Favorite: A Few Good Men
This was another standout year for movies, maybe even exceptional. I also considered “Dave,” “Groundhog Day,” and “In the Line of Fire” as well as “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” for my pick of favorite film for 1993, but when it came down to it, “A Few Good Men” was it. Just a great script by Aaron Sorkin with terrific direction by the underrated Rob Reiner. Jack Nicholson was at his arrogant, cocky best as Col. Nathan Jessup, and Tom Cruise was spot on as the equally cocky JAG lawyer Lt. Kaffee, who appeared to be in over his head with a difficult case. Excellent supporting work by Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, and Kevin Pollack make this film a pleasure to revisit.


Top Grossing: Aladdin
Another year, another Disney movie dominates the box office. Featuring perhaps the greatest voice performance ever in an animated film by Robin Williams as the Genie, this movie remains as charming as ever. Though the 2019 live-action remake is fun, I’ll take the original all day, every day.

Oscar Winner: Unforgiven
This terrific allegory on the nature of violence and what makes a man tick is a terrific movie with superb performances by Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, and Morgan Freeman, but the fantastical shootout at the end tarnished the movie a bit for me.

My Favorite: A River Runs Through It
This lyrical tale of brothers cut from the same cloth and pattern, but who turn out so differently is a haunting yet somehow comforting movie to me. The film is by far Craig Sheffer’s best performance as the good brother Norman, but he pales in the shadow of Brad Pitt’s high-wattage performance as Paul, the beloved but troubled brother. Tom Skerritt also gives one of his best performances as the boys’ strict but loving father.


Top Grossing: Beauty and the Beast
This is probably my favorite Disney animated film. Fantastic animation, and a touching love story. It’s one of the few Disney animated movies in which the heroine and the hero (maybe anti-hero in the case of the Beast) get almost equal story time. It’s animated, but the fight scene at the climax with Beast and Gaston is one of my all-time favorites. The dancing scene with Belle and Beast still gives me goosebumps.

Oscar Winner and My Favorite: Silence of the Lambs
James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” is another great film, but it would be third for me in 1992 behind my “No. 2 Beauty and the Beast” and my No. 1 “Silence of the Lambs.” Here is another time where my taste aligns with Oscar voters with this chilling psychological thriller, expertly directed by Jonathan Demme from a fantastic script by Ted Tally. Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling is a wonderfully layered protagonist, and Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Hannibal Lector stands as one of my all-time favorite performances. Lector is the most frightening villain in movie history to me. He is an ice-cold predator, and yet there is something alluring about his performance. The laugh Hopkins’ gets in the film’s final scene when he says he is going to “have an old friend for dinner” underscores the character’s wicked magnetism.


Top Grossing: Home Alone
This slapstick yet touching classic has become an annual viewing event for many movie fans during the Christmas season, and it was the biggest hit of producer John Hughes’ career and up there for director Chris Columbus, who would later direct the first two Harry Potter films. Macaulay Culkin’s expressive face and smart-aleck attitude are a wonderful combination, and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern excel at selling some of the best slapstick stunts filmdom had seen since the Three Stooges.

Oscar Winner: Dances With Wolves
This Kevin Costner Western opus is an expert display of filmmaking and storytelling. It holds up well 30 years on, but it lacks the kinetic wattage to place at the top of my favorite films of 1990. It’s a little too laconic and maybe even pretentious for its own good. For me the rewatch-ability factor of this film is too low to be a true favorite.

My Favorite: Goodfellas
My No. 2 film of 1990 would be the legal thriller “Presumed Innocent,” starring Harrison Ford, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “Goodfellas.” The gangster picture starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci is my favorite film directed by Martin Scorsese and probably a top 15 or even 10 favorite movies of mine of all time. The film is a masterpiece of fear and paranoia that mimics a junkie’s high in the early portion of the film to his strung-out lows as the characters’ lives fall apart as the movie reaches its climax. It’s by far the best performance of Liotta’s career, and Pesci got an Oscar for Best Supporting actor. De Niro’s great in the film, too. He’s role is just a bit more understated, but he, Pesci, and Liotta have great chemistry in the film that probably should have won Scorsese a Best Director Oscar.

Classic Corner – The Muppet Movie (Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)

Almost everyone with a heart and a sense of humor loves and appreciates Jim Henson’s Muppets.

Though they’ve been a fixture on television since the 1950s in some form or fashion, Kermit the Frog and his pals grew to fame on Sesame Street starting in 1969 and reached the height of their popularity in 1979 when they not only appeared on their syndicated series “The Muppet Show” but also made it to the big screen with “The Muppet Movie.”

In conjunction with the 45th anniversary of the film’s release, the Malco Razorback and Pinnacle Hills cinemas are holding special big-screen showings of the movie at 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday. The classic movie not only details how Kermit the Frog made it from a Florida swamp to Hollywood, but also how he met his co-stars Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Rowlf the Dog and the rest.

The film is structured as a road comedy featuring the special brand of self-referential humor and parody that made the Muppets beloved by kids and adults alike.

Like all proper road movies, the film featured a heavy dose of cameos from the biggest and most popular comedians of the day, including Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Milton Berle, Dom De Luise, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and Carol Kane, as well as personalities such as James Coburn, Elliott Gould, Orson Wells, Charles Durning, Cloris Leachman, and Telly Savalas.

The Muppets are all their adorable selves, and the jokes mostly hit their marks, but perhaps what stands out most is the film’s theme song “Rainbow Connection,” which is as gentle and sweet today as when audiences first heard it in 1979. Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher wrote it and the other songs in the film, which earned them an Academy Award nomination for Best Song and Best Score.