Drinking and come-ons in unfocused college underdog comedy.
  • Review Date: February 25, 2014
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 97 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Everyone, as Eli eventually realizes, can find a place where they can excel, something that will bring out their talents. But being a grump isn't going to get you very far.

Positive role models

Eli deserves credit for standing up to the bullies who torment him and finding a niche where he can both excel, and ultimately win them over. Still, he is faced with a complicated moral choice, and it's clear he's tempted by taking the easy, selfish way out.


Eli is repeatedly bullied by bigger and older college students. One loutish jock dunks Eli's head in the toilet, while a trio of snotty Harvard students slap him around. Other people menace and threaten him, though none of the incidents seem to intimidate him.


Two teens kiss and cuddle, and older college students talk about having sex. A college senior repeatedly propositions a 14-year-old prodigy who's now a freshman at the school. Some crude innuendo and one scene features a nude athlete in the gym shower, seen from behind.


A fair bit of swearing, including "s--t," "ass," "p---y," "balls," and "frigging."


One character drives an old Mercedes convertible and another uses an old Mac computer. Numerous well-known colleges are mentioned by name, especially Harvard.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Several scenes show college students drinking heavily at parties, mostly beer. Two teens share a joint. An older college student forces a younger teen to drink liquor from a flask, leaving the younger student staggering drunk, and later throwing up.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that HairBrained centers on Eli (Alex Wolff) a 14-year-old teen prodigy who enrolls in college, and is befriended by a 41-year-old who's also starting as a freshman. Eli is initially bullied by some fellow students, but soon finds his niche as the star of the school's Collegiate Mastermind team, a trivia competition where his intelligence makes him a star. Along the way, he attends several raucous parties filled with drunken students and fends off the aggressive advance of a senior coed seems determined to have her way with the young teen. There's a good bit of swearing, a few students smoking pot, and some flirting and more age-appropriate kissing between Eli and girl who's closer to his age and just as smart.


What's the story?

Eli Pettifog (Alex Wolff) is a 14-year-old teen prodigy ready and able to start college but is disheartened by a rejection from Harvard University. Instead, he must settle for Whittman College. While there, the awkward teen is befriended by Leo (Brendan Fraser), a 41-year-old freshman who's finally starting school, and Eli is bullied by his fellow students. Eventually he discovers the Collegiate Mastermind team, a trivia competition that will finally give Eli the opportunity to show up Harvard.

Is it any good?


HAIRBRAINED combines a lot of themes -- some of them high school juniors and seniors may relate to, especially Eli's hopes of getting into his dream college -- and tries to unite them into a satisfying whole. He's the awkward teen trying to discover who he is. He's also an underdog, leading a team of misfits to the big game where they'll take on heavily favored Harvard. Plus, there's his odd-couple friendship with the much older Leo. Unfortunately, all these storylines never really add up to a coherent, strong story.

Eli isn't particularly likeable and is surly to the end, not to mention willing to sell out his friends when faced with a tough moral choice. We get why he's so bitter about all things related to Harvard, and while they do deserve to get beaten, Eli's sour attitude makes it hard to cheer for him. And without a sympathetic lead character, the film falls flat, filled with a bunch of ill-defined supporting characters who are predictable to boot.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what kind of movie this is. How would you categorize the film? What do you think would have made it a better movie?

  • How realistic is the college life depicted in the movie? What seems exaggerated for humor? Are the true consequences of drinking shown in the movie?

  • Would viewers feel differently about the older college student propositioning the 14-year-old character if the genders had been switched?

  • Why do kids make fun of Eli? How does Eli handle bullying? What else could he have done?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 28, 2014
DVD release date:March 25, 2014
Cast:Brendan Fraser, Alex Wolff
Director:Billy Kent
Studio:Premiere Entertainment
Run time:97 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:crude and sexual content, language, nudity, teen smoking and drinking, and drug references

This review of HairBrained was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Write a user reviewThere aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?
Thanks – we appreciate your feedback!

Special Needs Guide