Brain on Fire is a growth movie. Its subject matter isn’t handled strongly, but if you have followed its lead, Chloe Grace Moretz, you see growth. That is pretty much the main thing you’ll get out of this. Well, and some awareness of what is Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis.
At the age of 21, Susannah’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) life is almost ideal. She graduated from college, has a job at the New York Post, and also has her own apartment. Not to forget, health insurance. On top of that, she has a boyfriend named Stephen (Thomas Mann), a boss who is hard on her but is invested, and while her parents are divorced, they don’t create a toxic environment when around one another.
Yet, no life can be allowed to be so perfect. For Susannah, to make a long story short, her brain became inflamed. With that, her cognitive abilities degenerate and there comes a point where many thought there was something mentally wrong with her. Luckily, thanks to her parents, Rhona (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Tom (Richard Armitage), alongside Dr. Najjar (Navid Negahban), she didn’t end up in a psych ward but with actual treatment. Life restoring treatment.
It Will Get You Emotional At Times
Being able to connect to the point of view of Susannah’s boyfriend, her parents and work friend/mentor Margo (Jenny Slate) will allow you to vicariously feel a sense of helplessness. This idea that, at best, you can just be physically there and let it be known to hospital staff, and Susannah, you’re in it for the long hall. A difficult task because you have to watch them and help bear the weight of being diagnosed, misdiagnosed, hopped up on pills, and losing control. All of which, by the end of the movie, it is hard to not feel this weight on your spirit. One which may lead to you getting a little bit teary-eyed.
On The Fence
It’s A Growing Pains Movie For Moretz
For actors who didn’t go to college to hone their craft, they do so through their work. The lucky few by being challenged by veteran actors of note. However, in the case of Moretz, while she has been in the occasional movie with a talented actor, she has never been challenged like she is with Susannah. For depicting an illness, of any kind, is difficult. You have to balance the various ways a body could react to how an audience expects you to act. Making for when Susannah is seemingly manic, you may want to question if Moretz is overacting? Then when she has seizures, there comes the question if, especially if you never saw or experienced one, is that what it really looks like?
Which isn’t to say that actors who have serious training don’t stumble or give questionable performances. But with them having tools from their formal education, they know when to play something up or reel it in, especially if the director doesn’t tell them to do so. When it comes to Moretz though, as much as she has grown since her Kick-Ass days, that charm and likability which has gotten her this far, it doesn’t translate. She isn’t able to convey whatever made her interested in this project to you. So while you can see and assume the effort involved, sadly whatever prep she did, it didn’t succeed in energizing her performance.
A Bit of Indifference All Around
But I can’t just be put it on her. In general, as serious as the matter is, and how you can sort of live vicariously through characters, it was hard to get lost in them. If only because Moretz’s acting was met by actors/characters who didn’t play off her well, challenge her, nor stand out much.
Though perhaps the better way to put it is, each actor, be it Susannah’s parents, doctor or boyfriend, seemingly were made to be bland. They are made to be generic enough where you can step into their shoes. For with us learning so little about them, it makes it where it’s like you are reading a book. One in which there are barely any noteworthy descriptions or backstories about the character and all you get is what they go through. Making it where, after some time, you don’t feel as much it is the characters journey but yours.
However, with this not being a book and the actors not presenting whirlwind performances which sweep you up, while you will understand the weight of the situation, that will be from whatever empathy you have. There never comes a point where these actors go beyond being mediums and you have to experience what they are feeling vs. how you would feel in the situation.
And as for how that affects the story? Well, again, you can get into it but you’ll recognize that some scenes, if some actors just gave more oomph, would have hit much harder. Ultimately leaving you wondering if this film does the real people, this story is based on, justice.
Overall: Mixed (Divisive)
Brain on Fire isn’t horrible, but it definitely is rough. Moretz is clearly trying to test her abilities as a dramatic actress, but she is kind of alone in the pursuit of that. None of her co-stars are as engaging as she tries to be. They are present but, like Susannah at her worse, they are not fully there. With that, you have to force yourself to do what is their job and put yourself in any of their shoes. Imagine if your daughter, girlfriend, or friend was suddenly put in a position you had no powers to help with.
Which leads to why this is being labeled Mixed. While the performances are hit and miss, the overall story is strong enough that it compensates for the actors. Thus allowing you to connect to the circumstance and perhaps even become emotional. Alongside that, being that this is based on a true story, it provides insight. So that maybe if you know someone with symptoms like Susannah, they can be properly diagnosed. That is, rather than labeled with some sort of mental disorder, drugged up, and doctors cleaning their hands of what becomes solely your problem.