Movie review of “A Brilliant Young Mind”: This tale of a math prodigy is really a tougher thing: a movie about the complex emotional lives of autistic children. Asa Butterfield and Sally Hawkins star. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Though billed as a boy-genius story, “A Brilliant Young Mind” is really a tougher thing: a movie about the complex emotional lives of autistic children.
Title character Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is unable to engage with his devoted-but-frustrated single mom (Sally Hawkins), even though his heightened ability to detect patterns makes him a whiz at mathematics. So much so that, with the help of a special tutor (Rafe Spall), Nathan qualifies for a chance to represent England in an international math Olympiad.
This means he must leave behind his carefully structured life in England and attend a math camp in Taiwan, away from the support system and surroundings that give him comfort and allow him to function.
Movie Review ★★★
‘A Brilliant Young Mind,’ with Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Jo Yang. Directed by Morgan Matthews, from a screenplay by James Graham. 101 minutes. Not rated. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
The noise and light and color of Taiwan are disconcerting, the other children competitive and unforgiving, but when he’s paired off with a lovely girl (Jo Yang) from a rival team, his feelings about engaging the outside world begin to change.
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“A Brilliant Young Mind” is adapted by director Morgan Matthews from his BBC documentary “Brilliant Young Minds,” about an actual British team in the Olympiad. The team had several autistic members.
Morgan, though, jettisons the expected story of underdog striving and achievement for the more ambitious and personal story of an autistic child’s struggle to understand and manage emotion. Nathan, for instance, is genuinely baffled by his mother’s exasperation, her need for emotional connection.
As his mother, Hawkins is handed a confining role, but she’s a clever actress, and absolutely crushes the scene in which she finally finds the words to explain to Nathan, given her limited grasp of mathematical terminology, the equation of family and the way to “value” a human. And her partner in the scene, Butterfield, manages to be expressive while honoring his character’s limited emotional range.