Saturday, April 20, 2024

Toronto Review: Tony Goldwyn Directs Bobby Cannavale in His Best Role Yet in “Ezra” with Robert De Niro, Rose Byrne


Tony Goldwyn makes his living as a terrific actor (he’s in “Oppenheimer” right now) but I think his true love is directing. Many years ago he directed Viggo Mortensen in a breakout role in “A Walk on the Moon,” a charmer that holds up very well.

Tonight in Toronto we got to see Goldwyn’s latest called “Ezra” about a high functioning autistic kid in Hoboken, New Jersey who’s torn between his divorcing parents. The boy who plays Ezra, William Fitzgerald, is a find that allows the movie to work beautifully. But is the movie really about Ezra or his father, a comedian and comic writer named Max Bernal who’s a little on the spectrum himself. Max is played by Bobby Cannavale in the tour de force performance we’ve been waiting for.

Cannavale has a long list of fine credits from movies like “The Station Agent” and “Blue Jasmine,” not to mention the failed HBO series, “Vinyl.” He’s always just about to break out himself. Max is the character he needed, a kind of modern day Lenny Bruce who continually torpedoes his career but is devoted to Ezra above all else. In this scenario, a little like “Rain Man,” Max takes Ezra on the run to save him from being over medicated by doctors who think he might be a danger to himself. “Ezra” is also a bit of a road movie, too. What sets it apart is Tony Spiradakis’s often very funny and humane script, Goldwyn’s directing, and cinematography from Danny Moder (real life husband of Julia Roberts).

But then there’s that cast. Rose Byrne (she and Cannavale are married in real life) effortlessly plays Ezra’s mother and Max’s ex wife who has her own uniquely deep relationship with the boy. Robert De Niro — in his best non-gangster performance since “Silver Linings Playbook” — is Max’s father who has a lot of regrets about their relationship as well. He and Cannavale are gangbusters together. But the heart of the movie is Max and Ezra. Their sweet interaction is so genuinely moving that it reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix in “C’mon C’mon” but even more authentic.

Spiridakis has been a favorite New York indie screenwriter and actor for a long time. Here he’s writing from experience — he has two high functioning sons who are adults although he never kidnapped them or broke the law. Goldwyn — they’ve been friends for 40 years — says Spiridakis has been working on different versions of this screenplay for 12 years. The result is gold for everyone. “Ezra” is looking for distribution here. Apple Studios comes to mind since they did such a nice job on “CODA.” This movie, like that one, is a deceptively family friendly film with a lot of hidden undercurrents.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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