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Ezra and my thoughts

I watched the movie Ezra with a mom friend Sunday. In short, I commend it to you. 

According to the trailer note, the film, "follows a stand-up comedian living with his father, while struggling to co-parent his autistic son Ezra with his ex-wife. When forced to confront difficult decisions about their son’s future, Max and Ezra embark on a cross-country road trip that has a transcendent impact on both their lives." If you're curious what I thought, read on and beware of spoilers. 😬

And here are the cast of characters for context:

Ezra: autistic son

Jenna: mom

Max: dad

Stan: grandpa and Max's dad

This movie tackles a LOT in 100 minutes. . .

  1. Hyperbole: To tee it up properly, understand that the events in this film are over the top. If you go in expecting this kind of exaggeration, I think you'll be less flummoxed at how unbelievable it all is and can more readily see yourself and people you know in the characters. The hyperbole serves to get us thinking about the systems in which we live, the power they hold, and the agency we can exert. With that preface aside, let's move on.
  2. Inclusion v. Outplacement: The film opens with Ezra's school administrator telling his parents Ezra has to move to a special needs school. Both parents initially push back. Then Jenna begins to agree with the school and Max loses it. This might give you flashbacks to the intensity of your own kids' PPT meetings gone awry.
  3. Meds: Ezra winds up in the hospital and is admitted for a psychiatric evaluation. The doctor mandates antipsychotics and educational outplacement. Once again, Jenna acquiesces and Max loses it, resulting in a 1-month restraining order against Max seeing Ezra. I wondered just how far "the system" can go in exerting control and thought of real-life situations that have gone sideways when caregivers' and children's voices were left out of decisions. Ezra's narration of what led up to the hospital gets overlooked so the medical team doesn't have an accurate picture of what Ezra's going through. Their medical decisions are not patient-centered.
  4. Parenting Differences: Each parent has a unique relationship with Ezra. Jenna rubs Ezra's earlobe and brushes him to calm him down. Max has an impromptu dance party with Ezra, avoiding a meltdown. Each parent has unique values. Jenna desires more typical behavior and Max wants Ezra to learn to stand up for himself. The movie accurately portrays the immense strain that co-parenting children with disabilities places on relationships.
  5. Impact of Genetics: The film touches upon the idea that autism may be genetically transmitted in this family. We see hints of sensory processing disorder in Max. We see aggressive behavior in both Max and his dad, Stan. Given that the film was written by the father of an autistic child, maybe this question was on his mind as he wrote the screenplay.
  6. A High View of Autism: Ezra is portrayed with dignity in the film. Even when his parents get frustrated, they both acknowledge Ezra is being whom he is and the frustration is their own issue. They're fairly united in their perspective that Ezra isn't the problem.
  7. Glorifying Typical Behavior: On the other hand, there are a couple key scenes where Ezra displays typical behavior and is effusively praised. For example, Ezra asks for a plastic fork and explains how the metal fork makes him feel. I wanted to stand up and give him a round of applause for his self-advocacy. Instead, the adults cajole him into trying the metal fork. We learn early on that physical touch is uncomfortable for Ezra. In one of the final scenes, Ezra hugs Max and everyone seems to melt. Even though I understand why Max gloried in this, I wish the film allowed Ezra's boundaries to be respected by everyone around him.
  8. Creative Accommodations: The everydayness of accommodations resonated with me as the mom of an autistic child. I could see myself in Jenna verbally preparing Ezra to wear a wig that was going to feel uncomfortable. When Max found Ezra burning himself with hot bath water, he has to find a way to dry Ezra that won't hurt his skin. Parents of neurodivergent kids are constantly improvising and this film captures that beautifully.
  9. The Role of Family and Friends: Ezra's grandfather and an old family friend both embrace Ezra for exactly whom he is. They don't place expectations on Ezra to conform and they provide safe spaces for Ezra and his parents to be themselves. This kind of acceptance and support are what make it possible for many parents to make it through and the movie doesn't forget about the helpers.
  10. Balancing Competing Priorities: Parents are regularly forced to prioritize between personal and professional responsibilities. Sure, Max goes to an extreme but most of us can relate to hitting a wall and feeling like we need to take drastic steps to reorder our lives.
  11. Redemption and Second Chances: Most obviously, we see Max get a second chance to be both an advocate and a safe parent to Ezra. Another story line I loved was that of Max and Stan. In seeing how fiercely Max advocates for Ezra, Stan gets a second change to be present and encourage Max.
Despite the happy ending, the movie is darker and deeper than I expected. While Max says, "Ezra just needs to be seen and heard and appreciated for what he has to offer," Max has an underlying desire for Ezra to be like other kids. The film doesn't grapple with that in a way that felt satisfying. HOWEVER, here's this film where Ezra is played by an autistic actor, where an associate producer and many staff members are neurodivergent, where the set was intentionally neuro-inclusive. Those shifts deserve to be celebrated so go watch Ezra!


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