Didn't we invent film festivals so we could sequester all the star-studded "how I spent my summer vacation" indie film projects and keep them out of our arthouses? Who let Diminished Capacity escape? Based on a novel by Sherwood Kiraly, and directed by character actor (and Steppenwolf Theater vet) Terry Kinney, Diminished Capacity stars Matthew Broderick as a Chicago newspaper editor who's busted down to proofreading the comics page after a car accident leaves him with short-term memory issues. Ordered to take a vacation, Broderick heads to Missouri to visit his uncle (Alan Alda), an Alzheimer's-afflicted eccentric who's invented a device that translates the movements of fish into typewritten poetry. No sooner does Broderick arrive than he's heading back, accompanying Alda on a mission to sell a rare baseball card. The addled duo is joined by Virginia Madsen, Broderick's childhood sweetheart, who has her own appointment in Chicago with a vegan restaurant chain that wants to buy her paintings.
Diminished Capacity probably plays better on the page, where the deadpan absurdity isn't weighed down by the literalness of performance and image. In fact, Kiraly's script isn't that bad; the quirks aren't overstated, and the dialogue and the plotting are refreshingly straightforward, at least until the clamorous third act. Kinney keeps the pace brisk and the framing uncomplicated—which is a big part of Diminished Capacity's problem. A story this offbeat needs a director with vision, and a cast that's a little less familiar. Broderick, Alda, and Madsen are all fine—and Alda has some poignant moments as he realizes the implications of his forgetfulness—but their presence in a movie like this reaffirms its conventionality. Diminished Capacity's best scenes take place at a card show, where Bobby Cannavale and Dylan Baker play rival memorabilia dealers with differing ideas on what memories are worth. They're showing us something new. The rest of this movie—fish poetry and all—is not.