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)