Diminished Capacity (2008) Poster

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Alan Alda has not been this funny since Hawkeye Pierce
wmjaho21 January 2008
Maybe Diminished Capacity isn't "all that and a bag of chips," as a friend of mine is fond of saying. But I'll tell you what, it's pretty funny. I think I heard more laughing than anything I've seen at Sundance since Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine. That bodes well for the box office prospects of this film.

Alan Alda gives a terrific performance as Rollie Zerb, a small-town Missouri old-timer with Alzheimer's, who lives with his sister (and some hilarious but unidentified guy named Wendell in a trailer by the house). They are visited by Cooper (Matthew Broderick), who arrives at his mother's request to help talk Uncle Rollie into a nursing home. Cooper has mental problems of his own, due to a recent concussion. While back in town, he runs into Charlotte (Virginia Madsen), his high school sweetheart who is recently divorced from the town mayor. And somehow Rollie, Cooper, Charlotte and her son wind up heading to Chicago, where they are going to try to sell Uncle Rollie's rare baseball card of Frank Schulte, from the 1908 Chicago Cubs (the last Cubbies team to win the World Series!).

Broderick is solid, in his awkward, understated way. Madsen is the straight woman. But Alan Alda makes the movie as Uncle Rollie, and dominates the screen in almost every scene. And yes, if you squint you'll see shades of Hawkeye Pierce, but his Rollie character is a complete departure from anything he has done in the past, and probably his best comedic performance since MASH.

The script is very well-written, if a bit awkward at parts, and under the direction of veteran actor Terry Kinney, the action moves along briskly. There is probably more tension than there needs to be, which doesn't really fit. But when you're not wincing, you're generally laughing. There are some hilarious lines, and a plenty of feel-good vibe. Everyone will like this movie.

Sundance Moment: Broderick was much better on stage than I would have expected. He was there with his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, whose movie Smart People had premiered at Sundance the night before. Alan Alda was charming as well. Bobby Canavale was in two movies playing at Sundance this year, the other being The Merry Gentleman.
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Sweet and touching
shayup3 April 2008
I saw this film last night and I really enjoyed it. It showcased some human elements that have been forgotten by Hollywood. Sense of family, memories and bonds that are easily dismissed in today's world. Wonderful performances by the whole cast, especially Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick. Two comedic legends, but what touched me was the compassion that both their characters showed for each other. It was a comedy but personally, I found the sweetness more compelling than the comedy. I would recommend it for people who prefer dialogue and listening to the characters to the standard big noise movies that seem to dominate the film world.
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Solid Enough Cast But A Largely Disappointing Story
sddavis632 March 2010
Essentially you have here a "B" list cast of actors (Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen and Alan Alda) - none megastars, but all solid actors - who, as you would expect, put on decent enough performances. The problem with the movie is a story that misses its potential. I acknowledge that I haven't read the book. Maybe this worked better on paper, but on screen this was lacking.

Broderick played Cooper, an editor for a Chicago newspaper who suffers a head injury, and then is called away himself to help care for his uncle (Alan Alda) who's in the early stages of dementia. Madsen is some type of old flame for Cooper with whom he reconnects in his hometown. All three were fine in their roles but this movie had basically two directions in which it could have gone, did a little bit of both and, ultimately, because it had no focus on either, was a disappointment.

This could have been successful as a light-hearted comedy; a humorous look at dealing with the problems of dementia. Alda captured that well; he was believable as a dementia victim, and there were things like his fish-writing obsession that could have made this touchingly funny, but those moments were few and far between. Or, this could have gone the route of emotional drama, as we watch Alda's character of Rollie (and those around him) deal with his decline, but again those moments were few and far between. There was a moment when I thought the movie had made a choice - the very powerful scene when Rollie is missing and Cooper finds him in anguish in the bathroom at the card show; lost, confused and embarrassed at what's happened. But that moment also gets lost. Instead of that, the story focuses for some reason on the old baseball card - a 1909 Cubs card that Rollie's grandfather gave him as a keepsake and that he now wants to sell. Even that could have been touching enough, but the card ends up being used primarily as a prop for staging slapstick humour, especially the ridiculous "fight" scene at the end of the movie.

Also burdened with unnecessary characters (especially Donny, but even Madsen's Charlotte to an extent) this was really a disappointment. 3/10
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Surprisingly engaging
Gordon-1115 November 2008
This film is about a journalist with post concussion syndrome and his demented uncle on road trip to sell a precious baseball card.

"Diminished Capacity" is surprisingly engaging. The plot is well written, even tiny details are attended to. It has that special charm to engage viewers. The characters are all likable and authentic, and I really care about them. Alan Alda is amazingly convincing as a demented person. Little by little, his dementia is portrayed beautifully, from the burnt bacon to misplacing the card. One annoyingly implausible thing though, is why would no one help in the fight at the end. That dampens the credibility of the plot, but on the whole it is well written and executed.
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Unfulfilled promise.
Jamie Ward3 June 2009
Sometimes all you need to make a story work is an ensemble of interesting and dynamic characters for a loose and flimsy plot to dangle around. Indeed, some of the best and most memorable dramas stay true to this aesthetic and succeed purely on the merits on how well written and layered their characters are developed to be. Coming from a creative force that up until now has stayed mostly within the shadows of Hollywood (director Terry Kinney known more for his acting gigs, and writer Sherwood Kiraly who wrote an episode of "E/R" twenty-five years ago--not to be confused with acclaimed medical drama "ER"), Diminished Capacity at its heart is exactly that kind of film. It's quiet, unassuming and enriched with a few compelling personalities that help move the film past the screen and into your heart; and yet direction Terry Kinney too often shifts the focus—frustratingly so—against those aspects and onto more caricature plotting devices and flat sources of conflict for the more interesting characters. The result is a movie that for the most part provides a heart-warming and softly-sentimental character drama with dashes of romance and comedy for good measure—but also one that too often stoops to tired writing and uninspired segments built to "speed things up".

And yet, Diminished Capacity is a feature that works more when overt plotting is negated to the sidelines and mundane sources of conflict in the form of irritatingly flat antagonists are ignored. At the center of its tale are the characters of Cooper (Matthew Broderick) and his uncle Rollie (Alan Alda), both of whom share disabilities relating to memory despite being several decades apart in age. Under pressure from the bill collectors to meet ends meet, Rollie invests in his nephew to take him to Chicago in order to sell off an extremely rare and valuable baseball card that was passed down to him from his granddad. What follows is a story that delves in and out of the relationship between Rollie and Cooper to mixed effect; there are moments when the bond that both share resonates off screen, and then there are others where there's just so much farce and obtuse chase-shenanigans going on (one of these involving the film's dunderhead irritant in the form of hick Donny Prine) that all nuances and subtlety that makes the couple so interesting is lost. The film's source of comedy works in exactly the same way; there are small moments when laughter is least expected that come of nowhere to amuse and then there's those other sections that are far too obvious and facile to come anywhere close.

Nevertheless, with such a character drama, a high amount of attention is brought upon the actors to successfully establish the traits present between the characters on the script, and for the most part the ensemble do well in this area. Perhaps the strongest and most compelling aspect of Diminished Capacity in fact comes in the form of Alan Alda who plays old forgetful Rollie with just enough comical edge and sweet, nonchalant resolve to really get his character across. With many other actors, it would be easy to slip into a derivative cutout of the "wacky old coot who doesn't know what's going on", but Alda invests enough humanity in his position to give the film its only real source of heft within all the levity. Broderick who has spent the past ten years in between lackluster blockbusters and lending his voice to animated children's movies, isn't quite as engaging as his co-star, but nevertheless fills the role suitably in all that the script asks for. It's a performance that is easily overlooked in favour of Alda's more attentive qualities, but Broderick serves as a fine counterpoint nevertheless.

For all the good that Alda and crew do however, there still remain major faults within the woodwork of Diminished Capacity's frame that only belittle the more serious and tangible aspects of its design. Aside from the hokey antagonists and somewhat banal scenes focusing directly on the hobby of baseball card collecting, there exists a romantic subplot lurking in the background of Kiraly's story that is never developed or capitalized on enough to fully resonate. Of course to most viewers this short-fused inclusion will be a mere perfunctory mishap, but given the amount of focus put on Cooper and his love interest Charlotte (Virginia Madsen), there is nevertheless an empty sense of disappointment left in the wake of such potential untapped. In the end however, that is essentially what the entire experience of Diminished Capacity boils down to; unfulfilled promise. With a terrific cast and some nice characters, Kinney's feature here can be charming and inviting, but only in small doses; the rest isn't quite as sharp and in the end spoils what is an otherwise decent character comedy.

As a minor sidenote to this review I would like to raise the question of why this film was rated as a 15. The BBFC describes the film as containing strong language, and yet the uses are infrequent and mild. Aside from this—there is virtually nothing to suggest anything close to a 15 age rating. Indeed, when a film like Wolverine can get a 12A rating, how does one rightly justify a feature like Diminished Capacity receiving anything more severe? It's sheer lunacy.

  • A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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Great actors+poor script=movie let-down
I enjoy all the actors in this, so when I first saw this in the remainder bin I grabbed it. I hadn't heard of this release at all so looked forward to breaking the cellophane.

The actors - Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen and Alan Alda - struggle mightily with a rather awkward wandering script and a movie that can't seem to make up its mind in which direction and what genre it is embracing. Bathos, pathos, slapstick, romance and too many pathetic fight scenes get thrown into the mix and take from a slender story that could have been wonderful.

Broderick plays Cooper, an editor for a Chicago newspaper who is called by his mother to sort out an uncle (Alan Alda) who is displaying bizarre symptoms of dementia. Thing is Broderick also has suffered a brain injury (another fight scene) and is having serious mental issues himself.

This could have been fully explored in a blind helping the blind scenario but unfortunately it isn't. Instead we now get a road movie with a very valuable baseball card as the impetus for the flight. There were some very interesting underlying themes which were never fully explored and all dealing with Alda, playing Rollie who has a wonderful fish-writing obsession with a typewriter sitting on the end of the dock. I also thought the relationship between Cooper and his mother undeveloped, she seemed a very interesting avant-garde figure.

The clichés were many down to the second to last scene when all characters in the stadium engage in an unbelievable fight/chase/fight/chase scene that seems interminable not to mind unbelievable.

And then the seen-it-all-before-Joe dinner in the garden with all cast members happily chowing down. Eye-roll.

A shame to waste all that great talent on this unsatisfying script. 2 out of 10.
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A light delight
sbyrd200022 July 2009
I found this DVD at a garage sale and I was shocked that I never heard anything about this movie. A killer cast with horrible cover art. The story was wonderfully quirky. I cared for the characters and was fascinated by the plot complications. There was a nice combination of humor and sadness. The story of country folks trying to survive in the big city of Chicago was a nice touch. I loved the real Cubs footage and could feel the pain of some of the fans portrayed in the film. I once loved baseball and I would imagine any true fan would get a kick out of the real baseball references throughout the film. Overall a satisfying surprise
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This is simply an excellent movie with an excellent cast!
minnyca27 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I must admit when I rented this movie it was largely because of its cast. I always liked Matthew Broderick and Virginia Madsen. The talents of Alan Alda go without saying ... Hawkeye as part of M*A*S*H was legendary to say the least.

I quickly found I was deeply interested in this movie as it began playing maybe because of what we went through with my own uncle who developed a form of dementia that accompanied his Parkinson's Disease I don't know but I was hooked.

The antics at times were funny and like other movies very serious at other times. Broderick's character is also suffering from his own memory problems due to a severe concussion and can at least understand some of what his uncle is going through. Though unlike his uncle, his neurologist states he should get better ...

Alda as the uncle is excellent in this movie, funny at times but very poignant and serious at other times - as he looks into the mirror his reflection that appears back is haunting and vacant. But he tries to deal with it though at times certainly gets things muddled.

Madsen also is very good in this movie as the now divorced old flame but is very strong as her relationship with Broderick's character rekindles itself. Her scenes with her son are also very touching as she tries to deal with his problems. Her character certainly though is not one dimensional as her own potential career as an artist are developed in the movie as well. Her paintings in fact were the reason for her visit to Chicago in the first place but her roots clearly are in their hometown. Madsen in this film is radiant as she has ever been. If she was stunning in the 80s she is radiant now and has only improved her craft and skills.

Overall a good movie, well acted and well written. If you like movies with substance and something to them with family themes behind it this is the movie for you. Well worth the watch.
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Annoying, frustrating, and not funny
SnoopyStyle16 January 2014
Cooper (Matthew Broderick) is a newspaper editor having memory problems after suffering a concussion. He is forced to go on leave, and he goes back home. His mother wants to put his uncle Rollie (Alan Alda) into assisted living. Irratic Rollie is having mental problems of his own, but he has a rare baseball card. Hoping to stay independent, Rollie goes to memorabilia convention to sell his card with the help of Cooper, Cooper's ex Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) and her son.

I didn't much like either Broderick or Alda's character. They aren't very funny. Uncle Rollie is very angry. They're trying for quirky and funny. I wonder if quirky and dark would make more sense. This never got funny. And the ridiculous slapstick in the end of them fighting for the card is downright stupid. When the card is so valuable and Rollie is treating it like a pawn shop reject, it's just too frustrating and too painful to watch.
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Is there something wrong with me?
J_Charles4 March 2011
I actually liked this film. It's a light-hearted look at people suffering from reduced mental capacity (memory loss, lapses in judgement) due to aging (portrayed by Alan Alda), or from post-concussion syndrome (portrayed by Matthew Broderick).

The main characters played their characters very well. Alan Alda especially did a remarkable acting job. Bravo Alan! I'm going to have to dig through the archives and see your earlier works as well. Very convincing as the elderly gentleman who's slowly losing his marbles while retaining a very charming outlook on life.

The storyline is quite simple. You're not watching this movie for a complex or compelling story but rather to watch the characters and how their relationships evolve with each other. Of course there has to be a romantic interest thrown in and although that was maybe one of the lesser parts of this movie, Virginia Madsen plays her part well and looks very fetching as a 40-something single mother.

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Pleasant bunch of quirky characters
phd_travel26 September 2011
Good watchable indy movie in the vein of "Little Miss Sunshine". Liked the ensemble of quirky characters with their mental and other problems. Alan Alda is quite good as the elderly man with Diminished Capacity with a valuable baseball card to sell. His mental problems aren't overdone. His nephew trying to help is played by the quite well cast Matthew Broderick though he is a bit puffy looking. Virginia Madsen looks quite pretty with her lovely face. She is a bit broad in the mid section. Bobby Cannavale is quite good in his intense over the top role. It's not one to watch more than once like Sunshine or Sideways, but it's worth one watch.
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The reality of dementia, with brilliant humor
Al Rodbell24 June 2011
It's hard to understand why this film is rated so low. It just me be that those who go to movies, 14 to 35 year olds have no idea what it means to grow old, and with this aging to lose a sense of self that is encompassed in memory.

This film had a patina of comedy, but it was only a bit of sugar on some bitter reality. Having both main characters suffer from cognitive incapacity, but with a difference of one being a decline and the other only temporary was a brilliant device.

Alda's sense of despair was perfectly conveyed, as he held on to the one thing he treasured, an old baseball card. But it was difficult to hold onto, and kept slipping through his fingers, like his memory itself.

A rare gem of a movie, even more so for baseball fans, more so for collectors of baseball cards, and a jackpot for those who adore the Chicago Cubs.
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Losing one's mind
jotix10015 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Cooper, a newspaper political writer, suffered a concussion on his head. He is suffering from a loss of memory. The paper has moved him to a job proofreading the comic strips it carries, but even at that, his mind is not what it once was. When Cooper's mother Belle calls asking to help her with an uncle that appears to be getting incapable of living alone, he decides to go see what is really going on.

What Cooper finds is his uncle Rollie, who is definitely not all there. Yet, the old man has moments of lucidity. Rollie, an independent minded soul is aging with all the problems the declining process carries. Rollie is sort of a dreamer; he has several passions, like fishing, writing poetry, but ideas become jumbled in his head. Cooper gets to know that someone is trying to steal a valuable baseball card, in pristine condition, that was given to Rollie by his own grandfather. Belle thinks that selling the card will bring some badly needed cash that Rollie does not have.

In going back to the small place where he was born, Cooper reacquaints himself with his former girlfriend, Charlotte, now a divorced lady with a young son. Charlotte, a painter, must go to Chicago for a presentation of her painting to a restaurant chain. Cooper thinks he can interest Rollie in selling his valuable card at a baseball convention. Unfortunately, Rollie is about to be swindled into accepting not even a small fraction of the value.

Terry Kinney, better known as an actor and director with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, is at the helm of this pleasant, if light comedy. Based on a book by Sherwood Kiraly, the film has a thin plot, but it is engaging while one is watching it. The folks we meet are people one could relate to. The indignities of growing old and having to depend on others weighs heavily in the story. It also deals with loss of memory, as seems to be a metaphor for those things one tends to forget with the passing of time.

Matthew Broderick plays Cooper with his usual boyish charm. The wonderful Virginia Madsen adds a touch of class with her Charlotte. The great Alan Alda makes a case for his Rollie, a man who sees everything suddenly out of his control. Bobby Cannavale and Dylan Baker, two excellent character actors are seen as a bad and a good guy in the baseball card business. Legendary Ernie Banks has a cameo role.

"Diminished Capacity" will resonate with viewers looking for an enjoyable and peaceful time with the company of regular people, something that sometimes is forgotten by Hollywood.
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