I almost didn’t watch a screener of “Ezra” because from the little bit I read about it ahead of time, it seemed like it was going to be full of worn-out movie tropes. I thought:

  1. It’s another movie about an autistic kid — he’s not like “Rainman,” but he’s on the spectrum;
  2. The kid’s father is a standup comedian, a profession that is never portrayed correctly on screen;
  3. The father and son take off on a cross-country adventure where they learn about each other and strengthen the bond between them.

It sounded boring, with a been-there-done-that sensibility. As it turns out, that initial reaction was wrong.

What makes “Ezra” work is having Bobby Cannavale as the father, Max. When he doesn’t push it, Cannavale has a natural likability that makes me root for him. His scenes on stage in comedy clubs are mercifully short, but we get the idea he’s still struggling to make it.

Meanwhile, he’s the divorced dad of Ezra (William A. Fitzgerald), who lives with Max’s ex-wife, Jenna (Rose Byrne). The two parents disagree on how to raise their son, with Jenna insisting he be moved to a special needs school and Max determined to keep Ezra in a mainstream school and off medication. But things go awry and Ezra is expelled, creating a crisis in the family — which includes Robert De Niro as Max’s father, who lives with him, and Tony Goldwyn (who also directed) as Jenna’s new boyfriend.

To avoid having Ezra placed in an institution he doesn’t believe would help, Max takes him on a road trip. He’s not sure where they’re headed or what he’ll do when he gets there, but he’s determined to do what he thinks is right for his son. Along the way, Max finds out he’s impressed Jimmy Kimmel’s booker enough to want him on the show in a week, so he heads for Los Angeles, with stops to see a couple of old friends.

Now, there’s a point to the journey and as the distance from home grows greater, father and son grow closer. Unfortunately, Jenna has told the police that Max kidnapped Ezra, so an Amber Alert is issued nationwide. I won’t tell you any more about the plot because you can probably guess where it’s headed.

Fitzgerald, who’s on the spectrum himself, makes Ezra smart and funny, and holds his own in scenes opposite Cannavale and De Niro (not an easy task). But the movie belongs to Cannavale, and it is the best work he’s done. Max may not make the best decisions, but Cannavale’s choices are pitch-perfect, imbuing Max with a conflicted personality, trying to maintain a sense of humor while holding back the boiling cauldron of resentment inside.

What makes “Ezra” different from other movies that have trod similar plot paths is the warmth of everyone involved, including supporting characters played by Vera Farmiga, Rainn Wilson, and Whoopi Goldberg. For that, credit goes to screenwriter Tony Spiridakis, who based it on his own experiences.

In lesser hands, “Ezra” could have been a maudlin mess, but instead it’s a feel-good movie that daintily steps over the cliches it tries (and mostly manages) to avoid. I give it a 7 out of 10. Opens in theaters tomorrow.