EZRA

★★★

FAMILY DRAMA ABOUT AUTISM HAS SOME SPEEDBUMPS

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Chris Dos Santos
16th June 2024

Autism is one of the most commonly known neurodevelopmental disorders. We know more than ever, have more resources to diagnose autism, and understanding of it is becoming more and more widespread, especially in schools where a lot more teachers' aids are being used to help children with autism. However, depictions on film are still incredibly rare and often fail at actuate depictions, like 2021's controversial 'Music'. 'Erza' is one of the few depictions in Hollywood that attempts to showcase autism respectfully.

Erza (William Fitzgerald in his debut) is a young boy with autism. He lives with his mum Jenna (Rose Byrne, 'Insidious: The Red Door', 'Peter Rabbit 2'), as his parents have recently gone through a divorce. His dad Max (Bobby Cannavale, 'Seriously Red', 'Sing 2') is a stand-up comedian and living with own dad (Robert De Niro, 'Killers of the Flower Moon', 'Joker'). One night, Jenna's new partner, Bruce (Tony Goldwyn, 'King Richard', 'Divergent'), makes a joke about "getting rid" of Max, causing Erza to run to tell his dad, but being scared by a dog he jumps in front of car. They accuse Max of being semi-responsible and is issued a restraining order against his son. Frustrated by this and in an effort to bond with his son, Max takes Erza on a cross-country road trip.

'EZRA' TRAILER

'Erza' has a lot of charm to it, but its plot takes too many wild turns for it to feel profound. They jump through so many hoops to get to where they want the story to be - it's not just that Max doesn't agree with the new drugs for his kid but also the restraining order so he has to "kidnap" his own son to have a bonding trip. If it just held back on the dramatics, a very quick touch-up could have been a simple story about a divorced dad having to bond with his autistic son because the mum is away and would have allowed for a more touching story. Also treatment for autism is extremely varied and what works for one child won't for another, so to just go "drugs bad, he needs to learn about life" isn't quite the right take.

The interesting steps the plot takes don't stop there. The strangest for me is a scene with Max on the phone with his dad because he is frustrated and wants to hit his son, but doesn't. I can see what they are attempting but with all the other drama going on it only comes across to make the dad unlikeable and not struggling with being a parent.

William Fitzgerald oozes charisma and is a great child actor. There are a lot of different emotions Erza goes through, and you really understand the character.

The acting is what shines here. Fitzgerald oozes charisma and is a great child actor. There are a lot of different emotions Erza goes through, and you really understand the character. The depicition of autism is also done quite respectfully, and while of course not accurate to every single person living with autism it's depicted with much reverence and also doesn't try to be definitive.

The film also has a very star-studded cast alongside leads Cannavale, De Niro and Byrne. The film also features Vera Farmiga ('The Conjuring' franchise), Whoopi Goldberg ('Sister Act') and Rainn Wilson ('The Meg'). All of the cast truly do a great job and having this many A-listers does help to elevate this film.

'Erza' has a lot of heart to it and is sure to captivate a lot of people, but it leans too hard into the drama of the plot that the emotional beats get lost along the journey.

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