A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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.
Talk to your kids 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?