Diminished Capacity

Bland indie comedy has some iffy alcohol content.
  • Review Date: June 30, 2008
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Discussion of fitting into social norms/expectations; discussion of divorce and family tension. Lots of contrast between small-town values and big-city speed. Much of the plot revolves around a valuable rare baseball card and attempts to steal or swindle it.

Positive role models

The characters are, on the whole, flawed, though most at least have fairly good intentions. Characters are trying to overcome a number of challenges, from addition to Alzheimer's.


Warning shotgun blasts are fired; characters scuffle and fight; one character strangles another (non fatally) with shoelaces; guns are pointed. A Cubs fan has a screaming, TV-smashing fit over the team's poor play.


Some kissing.


Language includes "goddamn," "bulls--t," "pissant," "craptacular," "s--t ball," "hell," "son-of-a-bitch," and the like.


Some real-world brands are in the background at a grocery store; some major brands and professional sports teams are visible and mentioned as part of a sports collectible show. Contextual mention of fictional branded characters Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man; discussions of Starbucks.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One supporting character is a recovering alcoholic who seems to be gaining relief through Alcoholics Anonymous; another alcoholic character is seen being shepherded into recovery. Alcohol abuse is seen to have clear ramifications. Characters drink beer and liquor in a bar. Cooper received his concussion at the hands of a friend on a drunken tear.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this indie comedy probably won't be on most teens' radar. Perhaps that's just as well, considering that it's pretty unflinching about alcohol abuse (and its negative effects) and revolves around characters dealing with severe memory loss and the loss of some mental function -- whether due to a concussion or Alzheimer's disease. One character veers between charming befuddlement and full-on dementia, which might be unsettling for viewers who've watched relatives suffer through Alzheimer's. There's some salty language ("s--t ball" is as strong as it gets) and some fairly mild violence, some of which is played for humor.

Kids say

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What's the story?

In DIMINISHED CAPACITY, newspaper editor Cooper Zerbes (Matthew Broderick) is recovering from the long-term effects of a concussion that's left him with slightly reduced mental sharpness; he's been demoted from editing the political columns to overseeing the comics pages -- and he's making mistakes there, too. Frustrated and overwhelmed, Cooper's called back home by his mother to help her deal with his Uncle Rollie (Alan Alda), who seems to be sliding into Alzheimer's disease. Some of Rollie's idiosyncrasies are charming (rigging a typewriter's keys to fish hooks at the end of the dock, so the nibbling fish create "fish poetry") and some are less benign (ignoring bills, leaving the oven on, and more). Cooper tries to talk Rollie into moving to an assisted living home, but Rollie has another plan -- going to Chicago and selling a rare baseball card for seed money to live more comfortably. Cooper reluctantly agrees to help Rollie, and the two head out -- along with Cooper's recently divorced high school sweetheart, Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) and her son.

Is it any good?


Directed by Terrey Kinney and adapted from Sherwood Kiraly's novel, Diminished Capacity is a great showcase for two talented actors: Broderick and Alda. The supporting cast, including Madsen, Dylan Baker, Louis C.K., and Bobby Cannavale, is also excellent. But something in Diminished Capacity doesn't quite work; the film veers between drama and comedy, personal relationships and scrambling comedy fist-fights. And while Alda's work is impressive, Broderick seems to be coasting a little bit here.

The film's relationship subplot, with Cooper rekindling a decades-old flame with Charlotte, also feels a bit familiar; since Sideways, Madsen's becoming the patron saint of women who love flawed-but-descent men, and it's a role that forces her to react, not act. Even though Diminished Capacity is superbly made, and the supporting parts give it life (Louis C.K.'s repentant alcoholic is so open and honest it's funny; Cannavale's unscrupulous collectibles dealer gives him a great chance to play a jerk) the plot elements feel a little standardized, and you can feel the movie stretching to provide every character with their big moment of challenge and triumph. Diminished Capacity isn't bad or broken, just a little bland.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how the film depicts alcohol use and abuse. What are the consequences of drinking too much in the movie? Are they realistic? How does the media affect our perception of drinking?

  • Discuss the film's essential question: "How much are your memories worth?" What would you do in Cooper or Rollie's place?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 2, 2008
DVD release date:July 4, 2008
Cast:Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen
Director:Terry Kinney
Studio:IFC Entertainment
Run time:92 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 10 and 13 year old Written bymarfen March 17, 2010
age 9+


Kind of a nice movie that dealt with important issues in a manageable way. A bit vanilla, but kind-hearted
What other families should know
Great role models


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