A Brilliant Young Mind
Starring Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan, Martin McCann
Not to be confused with Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, although both brilliant mathematicians do have similar social problems. Previously titled X+Y, A Brilliant Young Mind is based on the story of Daniel Lightwing, who worked with the production and attended the prestigious Olympiad as Butterfield’s character does in the film. “I have a lot of things to say, I am just afraid to say them,” Nathan Ellis tells the audience. He is a brilliant mind but suffers from Asperger’s syndrome which prohibits normal teenage activities. The films biggest issue is touting itself as a romance, “Is there a formula for love” the tag line purposes. There are some notes of love in the film, as Nathan, for the first time begins to care about someone other than himself. However, the real love story here is between Nathan and his mother played beautifully by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins.
Diagnosed with autism at an early age, Nathan (Butterfield) has always been extremely picky about food, specifically the number of items on his plate must always be a prime. He enjoys patterns and sticks severely to structure and familiarity. His advanced ability in mathematics becomes the only thing to keep him centered following the tragic death of his father, the only one with the ability to connect with his introverted son. Julie (Hawkins) has learned over the years to give her son space, he won’t allow her to hug him or even take his hand. When he is accepted to Taiwan for the International Mathematics Olympiad it’s his first time away from home and into a brand new world of experience including girls.
The more interesting parts of the film always seem to be with Hawkins, or perhaps that is just due to her tremendous talent and on screen presence.
A Brilliant Young Mind is reminiscent of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close especially with the loss of the father and the strained relationship with the widowed mother. Nathan rarely speaks at all, and Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas), typically cast for his piercing eyes and awkwardness, is the perfect choice. Unlike EL&IC, this film doesn’t forget about its supporting characters while our lead is off the journey of self- discovery. Nearly equal time is given to Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and Spall (Prometheus) who remain in England worrying about Nathan and eventually each other. The editing is tricky here and the more interesting parts of the film always seem to be with Hawkins, or perhaps that is just due to her tremendous talent and on screen presence.
It’s a heavy film with content concerning mathematics and from the nearly opening moments of the film, we are already in situational agony for both Nathan and his poor mother. Yet the film chooses to focus mostly on the boy’s relationship with Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) making this more like ‘Found in Translation’. Far too much screen time is spent in the discovery process in the Taipei segments, while the film hits a better stride once Nathan returns home. The performances make up for problematic editing and long winded storytelling. Still there appears to be more missed opportunities than gained on both the subject matter and the real heart of the story.
Sally Hawkins is terrific.