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Diminished Capacity

Don't be fooled by all the overhyped Hollywood blockbusters. This Sundance hit is a sleeper surprise of the summer--a one-of-a-kind original.


Smart, witty and genuinely human comedies with wonderfully observed characters don't come along ever day, but if you have a chance to catch this limited release by all means go. Set in the world of baseball-card memorabilia, the story revolves around a Chicago newspaper editor Cooper (Matthew Broderick), who suffers a concussion that severely affects his career and lands him working for the comics section. Confused by his twist of fate, he goes to rural Missouri for a visit with his once-wise Uncle Rollie (Alan Alda), who is about to lose his home and his memory due to what is medically known as "diminished capacity." With Cooper, his high school sweetheart Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) and her son Dillon (Jimmy Bennett) tagging along, the not-all-there aging Uncle decides to take an incredibly valuable 1918 Cubs trading card his own grandfather had given him to an expo where he hopes to make a deal. But not being of sound mind he gets sucked into the shady world of dealers--including a shyster salesman (Bobby Cannavale) and a well-meaning collector (Dylan Baker), who also happens to be a maniacal Cubs freak. Both vie for the card as Cooper tries to keep his doddering old Uncle from falling victim to scam artists.


After last week's Broderick debacle, Finding Amanda, it's nice to report this week the actor is back on track with his most engaging film in a while. It's kind of like Little Miss Sunshine, in which several disparate characters are thrown together in search of an end goal: In this case, a baseball card sale rather than a child beauty pageant. Broderick plays the mixed up Cooper with just the right sense of befuddlement and dry wit he's displayed in some of his better films. His efforts to keep Alda's Uncle Rollie from losing the card or making a bad deal are hilarious. If there were any justice Alda, at his best, would be remembered come Oscar time for his funny and touching portrait of a man trying to hang on to his memories. Madsen is warm as the small town girl who tries to keep the "boys" focused on the goal at hand, while there are wonderful comic bits from both Baker, driven to a near-nervous breakdown by every Cubs loss and Cannavale as a shifty baseball card dealer out to take an aging man for all he's worth.


Actor/director and Steppenwolf Theatre co-founder Terry Kinney has mostly worked for the stage but proves he has a deft touch for character comedy in Diminished Capacity. The film smartly uses the backdrop of baseball card trading to tell a larger story about family, life, love, aging and the need to keep our dignity through it all. Although Kinney keeps the laughs coming effortlessly, the film is also quite poignant, beautifully balanced and never forced. He milks every possible bit from his simple, yet so American, premise explored in Sherwood Kiraly's superb screenplay--which is also based on his own novel of the same name. The fact Kinney is an actor himself, and has had such extensive experience directing others for Steppenwolf, it should come as no surprise that this 'little film that could' contains some of the year's best and most subtle comic turns. This Sundance Film Festival success is not getting the kind of wide release it deserves, but wherever you find it check it out. It's a little gem.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.