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‘Ezra’ Review: Tony Goldwyn-Directed Journey Of Acceptance And The Spectrum Of Parenthood – Toronto Film Festival

In a world that prioritizes perfection, Tony Goldwyn’s Ezra stands out as a touching testament to the power of love, acceptance, and the challenges of parenthood. Weaving together familial dynamics with the understanding of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), the film offers a raw, emotional exploration of the lengths to which a parent will go to protect their child. Written by Tony Spiridakis, the film stars Bobby Cannavale. William A. Fitzgerald, Rose Byrne, Robert De Niro, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn. and Rainn Wilson.

The film begins with Max (Cannavale), a former writer turned stand up comedian, in the middle of a set talking about his autistic son, Ezra. The audience learns the child didn’t speak until very late in his childhood and became difficult to control after that. Max and ex-wife Jenna (Byrne) are called to their son’s school to talk with faculty who are fed up with Ezra’s behavior and they try to prevent the school from kicking the boy out. Unfortunately, Max isn’t over his ex and he’s so hurt, he cries after one night stands with strangers. He lives at home with his father Stan (De Niro), who constantly criticizes him for being a loser who can’t move on. His agent Jayne (Goldberg) does provide some levity for him in the form of a gig at the comedy cellar in NYC that he happily agrees to.

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There’s an issue of contention now that Ezra has actually been expelled. Jenna wants him to go to a school for other students like him, and Max isn’t trying to hear that. After an argument between the two, she vents to her new partner Bruce (Goldwyn), Ezra overhears him jokingly talking about taking his dad out of the picture. The child takes this literally, causing him to run out of the house and into the street where he gets hit by a taxi. Things get even more contentious because hospital doctors think Ezra needs to be put in a behavioral school and on meds. This causes Max to go off the deep end, prompting him to take his son on a cross country journey that ends with unexpected results.

Spiridakis’ story navigates the bumpy terrain of two parents grappling with the challenges posed by their son’s ASD. Their journey of acceptance, understanding, and the relentless quest to decipher the ‘right’ way to support Ezra is a central theme. The film raises some important questions: what does ‘normalcy’ look like? How does one gauge the correct path of care for someone on the spectrum? Ezra doesn’t offer easy answers but highlights the duality of parental love and sacrifice.

Max is having the hardest time coming to to terms with Ezra’s diagnosis, and constantly battling his denial and hoping he can somehow alter that reality. It’s  this emotional impulsivity, driven by an unyielding love, that often lands Max in hot water with his ex-wife, his father, and even the law. The character isn’t the sharpest, but makes up for it with an abundance of heart. His determination to prevent Ezra from being othered by society is both commendable and heartbreaking.

Goldwyn, wearing the dual hat of director and actor, showcases maturity in his handling of the narrative vision. His directorial approach focuses intensely on each character, allowing the audience to delve deep into each psyche. One of the most memorable moments is when Goldwyn brings the camera on stage, capturing Max in his comedic element as he bares his soul through humor. It’s in these candid moments that we truly understand the essence of Max as a central character.

Cannavale’s portrayal of Max is nothing short of brilliant. His electric performance is further elevated by his dynamic with Robert De Niro. Their portrayal of the father-son relationship feels genuine, filled with moments of tension, laughter, and mutual connection. De Niro, in his signature style, adds layers to his role, creating a character that resonates. He still remains one of Hollywood’s most talented legends.

Ezra is a reminder that sometimes our children walk a different path from their peers. While societal norms might push for conformity, the film champions the idea of nurturing uniqueness. As both parents journey through a maze of emotions, they gradually come to the realization that embracing Ezra’s differences is the key to unlocking his potential.

Title: Ezra
Festival: Toronto Film Festival
Distributor: Closer Media/ Wayfarer Studios
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Screenwriter: Tony Spiridakis
Cast: Bobby Cannavale. William A. Fitzgerald, Rose Byrne, Robert De Niro, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn. and Rainn Wilson
Rating: R
Running time: 1 hr 40 mins

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