A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Brilliant Young Mind is heartwarming but also quite frank about the emotional cost of losing a parent as a young child -- and how that can shape your outlook into adulthood. The movie explores grief and all sorts of emotions that go with it, including anger, making it best for teens and up; younger kids might find it too sad and intense. Expect some adolescent flirting and kissing, cursing (including "f--k," "s--t," and more), a harrowing car accident (and the very sad aftermath), and a disturbing scene in which a character is shown violently scratching himself with a very sharp instrument. The main character, a teen who's on the autism spectrum, has communication challenges, but all of the adults in his life try very hard to connect with him and have his best interests in mind.
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What's the story?
Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield) is a teenager who's fascinated with mathematics. He's so far ahead of his peers in the subject that he's picked to be part of the U.K.'s International Mathematical Olympiad team. But his participation isn't a done deal: It's contingent on him besting most of his peers during training in China. And Nathan also faces another challenge; he's on the autism spectrum, which sometimes makes it difficult for him to express himself and understand others. And everything is impacted by the fact that he still misses his father, who died in a car accident years ago (Nathan was a passenger). Nathan's mother (Sally Hawkins) doesn't quite know how to reach her son, but hiring a math genius (Rafe Spall) who once competed in the Olympiad himself has been good for the teen. But more change is in the offing.
Is it any good?
A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND isn't exactly brilliant, but it is a heartfelt, thought-provoking, well-acted drama. Central to the story is young Nathan's isolation, and Butterfield brings his character's complicated struggles to life in an authentic, heartbreaking way.
The film takes a detour to China, which is interesting and adds a layer of complexity to the plot -- but the characters Nathan meets there are, with one exception, very much single-note. Still, the film is a showcase for Butterield's talents, as well as those of the always-watchable Hawkins. Bottom line? A Brilliant Young Mind does a great job of exploring the world of a teenager on the autism spectrum, but the film could have used a more nuanced analysis of why Nathan approaches life the way he does.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how A Brilliant Young Mind handles the subject of autism. Do you think it's realistic? Relatable?
How does the film portray loss and grief? Why is losing is dad especially hard for Nathan?
Why do Nathan and his teammates feel such enormous pressure to succeed in mathematics? When does passion become something unhealthy?
- In theaters: September 11, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: January 26, 2016
- Cast: Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan
- Director: Morgan Matthews
- Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: STEM, Friendship, High School
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some strong language, a sexual reference, drug material and disturbing images
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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