Hot Take: A Brilliant Young Mind is a beautiful depiction of a teenage math whiz coping with autism. The middle of the film bogs down and the viewer might lose interest but if you make it through that stretch (and don’t get wrapped up in some of the “Hollywood”) and are still hooked, A Brilliant Young Mind is touching and a little bit brilliant in the end.
A Brilliant Young Mind, as a movie, is brilliant. The film centers around the brilliance of Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a young math prodigy with autism (specifically Asperger’s although the film never mentions the Syndrome by name) who wants to participate in the International Mathematics Olympiad. On the periphery, it deals with Nathan and his relationship with his mother (Sally Hawkins), his teacher (Rafe Spall) and his new acquaintances he meets at the pre-Olympiad math camp.
What makes it brilliant is the subtleness with which the story is told. It takes all of the best elements of a documentary and enhances them with everything a feature film is allowed to and delivers an emotional and uplifting film backed by an intriguing subject and superb performances.
There is a but though…
The feature film début from documentary director Morgan Matthews is based on a person from one of Matthews’ documentaries. As with A Brilliant Young Mind, the documentary Beautiful Young Minds is about a group of students from the U.K. attempting to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad. Matthews decided to take one of the characters in Beautiful Young Minds and fictionalize his life (in many, many ways) and tell what looks to be a brilliant tale but what might be more of a brilliant manipulation.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Excellent Performances
Butterfield, Hawkins and Spall all deliver strong performances. It would be unsurprising for Hawkins to nab her second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress with her portrayal of Nathan’s mother.
- The Emotion Feels Real
Backed by those strong performances, the emotion feels authentic. It’s easy to get invested in the characters and stay there.
There is obvious admiration of the city by director Matthews. Visually, the film is somewhat lacking outside of the scenes in Taipei but the shots of Taipei are spectacular.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Nathan Might Be a Little Too Brilliant?
There are a few scenes showing off Nathan’s intelligence that, in the moment, are moving yet, afterward, you might scratch your head at second thought.
- For a British Film From a Documentary Maker, There’s An Awful Lot of Hollywood
While the emotion feels authentic, some of the plot twists feel more “Hollywood” than authentic. Some skeptical viewers might think having a director who made a documentary featuring a autistic math whiz shouldn’t give you this much poetic license.