A Brilliant Young Mind
Want to see one of those hidden films that leaves you saying, “God, I’m glad I saw it.”
The real pity about Director Morgan Matthews’ A Brilliant Young Mind is the simple fact that it is an emotionally powerful film that few people will see. It dances in the same cinematic category as this year’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl so I hope that tempts you to buy a ticket.
The focus of the film is on a young Nathan Ellis, a math prodigy who may be borderline autistic. Left emotionally scarred after his loving father is killed in a traffic accident where he is a front seat passenger, he remains distant from his devoted mother as he grows into his teenage years.
Set in London, Nathan’s math skills qualify him for an international competition in Taiwan, and a kid with few social skills embarks on a journey where he must confront the meaning of both friendship and love. Many scenes will leave you with tears in your eyes, and you are left rooting for a lad who has become locked in his own emotional cocoon.
The strength of the film flows from extraordinary performances, beginning with Edward Baker-Close as a young Nathan and Asia Butterfield as the teenager. Young Mr. Butterfield is masterful as a teen trying to acclimate in a group where he is reluctant to shake hands, and it is all but impossible not to embrace him from the beginning of the film to its very captivating conclusion.
And then there is the enormously talented Sally Hawkins, here playing Nathan’s heartsick mother. Still wrestling over the tragic death of her husband, she has become an isolated soul dedicated to trying to provide love to a child who lacks the ability to display any affection in return. Though hardly a beautiful actress given the traditional conventions of Hollywood, her loveliness permeates every moment she is on screen. Furthermore, think of her colossal contributions to such splendid films as Never Let Me Go (2010), Made in Dagenham (2010), Blue Jasmine (2013) and her performance in the short film The Phone Call, which won an Oscar last year.
This movie is helped greatly by some other significant performances, beginning with Rafe Spall who plays young Nathan’s math instructor. Suffering his own difficulties resulting from multiple sclerosis, Mr. Spall is a joy to watch.
The film is also helped by the expected interesting performance from Eddie Marsan, here playing the coordinator for the English students traveling to Taiwan. Not to be overlooked are several of the students themselves, particularly including Jake Davies and Jo Yang. Mr. Davies plays an English contestant who suffers from a personality disorder similar to Nathan’s, while Ms. Yang is splendid as a Chinese contestant who helps Nathan emerge from his emotional cage.
In the end, this is a film about a mother dedicated to providing a meaningful future for both her son and herself. She can’t run from personal trauma, and you can’t run from her.