Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
HairBrained Movie Poster Image
Drinking and come-ons in unfocused college underdog comedy.
  • PG-13
  • 2014
  • 97 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.

What 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.


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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 many themes -- some of them high schoolers may relate to, especially Eli's hopes of getting into his dream college -- and tries in vain 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. All these storylines just 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.

Talk to your kids 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

  • In theaters: February 28, 2014
  • On DVD or streaming: March 25, 2014
  • Cast: Brendan Fraser, Alex Wolff
  • Director: Billy Kent
  • Studio: Premiere Entertainment
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Topics: Friendship
  • Run time: 97 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: crude and sexual content, language, nudity, teen smoking and drinking, and drug references
  • Last updated: March 13, 2020

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming of age stories

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate