Thursday, November 3, 2016

Diminished Capacity: Film Review

Released 2008.
I viewed Diminished Capacity (2008) a few years ago, but I'm revisiting it today, given that the "MacGuffin" or plot device for this film is a 1908 Chicago Cubs baseball card.

[Listen to Alfred Hitchcock explain the film term "MacGuffin."]

This quiet little film featuring Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick and Virginia Madsen.  The title refers to the cognition problems experienced by two of the three main characters.

Broderick plays Cooper, a Chicago newspaper reporter who experiences a traumatic brain injury by being too close to a bar fight.

Alda plays Cooper's Uncle Rollie, a mature man who is living with some form of neuro-degenerative disease, probably Alzheimer's Disease.  The movie poster gestures to one of Rollie's odd habits--his method of creating poetry by having fish tug on fishing lines attached to typewriter keys.

Madsen plays Charlotte a recently divorced woman who still lives in Broderick's home town in rural Missouri, the same town where Uncle Rollie lives.  She's raising a tween son.

Cooper returns home to help his mother, played by Lois Smith, who is concerned about Uncle Rollie's well being.  Broderick discovers, however, that Uncle Rollie doesn't see any real problems with his living situation, except for a lack of funds.

In an attempt to improve his cash flow, Uncle Rollie gets his rare baseball card out of hiding.  The card features 1908 Chicago Cubs right fielder, Frank "Wildfire" Schulte.

Because uncle and nephew both have problems thinking clearly, they experience a few snags while traveling to Chicago to a baseball card trade show.  Given their cognitive challenges, Charlotte offers to drive them, and she brings her son with her.

On the surface, the film looks like a low-key comedy.  I find value in the film using characters from two different generations bonding over similar challenges.

This film helps close the generation gap so that older adults appear more sympathetic and relatable by having a younger "doppelganger" experiencing similar problems, but to a lesser degree.   At one point in the film, Cooper and Rollie adopt the moniker, "Slow and Slower."

Nephew and uncle may both have challenges to overcome, but they are determined to work around them in order to achieve their objectives--which aren't always shared objectives, adding to the film's conflict.

Despite their differences, Cooper and Rollie have their shared kinship and memories--compromised as they are--to bind them together.  And a pretty cool baseball card.


Films about Aging
Films depicting Alzheimer's Disease


  1. I love Alan Alda but was hesitant to watch this movie because of the diminished capacity. I don't know why that is. Now I am going to watch it so thank you for this wonderful review, Karen.

    1. I assigned this film to a group of college students, and the Broderick character helped them feel more sympathy for the Alda character. The movie gets a little cheesy at times, but I am very interested in how cognitive issues are portrayed in feature films. And I did find humor and humanity in many of the scenes.

  2. I love the cast. I will look for it. How timely with the Cubs!

    1. I had insomnia last night due to the Cubs' win, so I decided to review a movie that I already watched but didn't get around to reviewing. When I was skimming over my list, it suddenly dawned on me that this one featured a baseball card...and then my second epiphany was my memory that it was a Cubs' 1908 card. Serendipity! Writing this was a perfect way to employ my Cubs'-induced insomnia. I hope you enjoy its folksy charm.