This is a very strange film to me. It is almost tedious to watch, mostly due to length, yet the performances and subject matter make it worth it. To the point that, despite me dragging my feet on finishing the movie, I’m glad I did. But whether or not such mixed emotions ultimately led to a good movie, see below.
Trigger Warning(s): Depiction of dead body and teasing of autistic person
Characters & Story
A young autistic boy named Nathan (Asa Butterfield/ Edward Baker-Close) finds himself with perhaps only one focus: Math. For in the world of math things make sense to him, and the patterns and formulas bring him a sense of peace. Pair that with the praise he gets for it, and it makes it so his social awkwardness the norm and not the exception.
Though, as Nathan grows older, experiences tragedy, and inches his way toward a possible triumph, quite a few people either come into his life or begin changing their role in it. One being his mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins), who for years has just been the type of mother trying to adapt and make her child happy, as he never pursues the same bond he had with his dad; then there is Mr. Humphreys (Rafe Spall), an arguable father figure, but mostly a math instructor who seemingly doesn’t enable Nathan, which seems to be one of his appealing characteristics; and then there is Zhang Mei (Jo Yang). With her introduction comes a new world for Nathan, and with the introduction of that world comes him understanding his mother in a whole new way. Thus quickly deepening Nathan’s character, and pushing the film to a place not entirely expected.
To be quite honest, the film is exhausting. The reason being, it challenges you. Not in terms of trying to follow along with the math problems, but because, even with the minor characters, it becomes clear that everyone has their own life outside of what Nathan presents, and you will be given just enough to know that. For example, one character named Luke (Jake Davies), like Nathan is autistic. However, he possibly wasn’t as coddled as Nathan and due to that, it makes his struggle almost more heartbreaking than Nathan. For despite us seeing Nathan’s father die and the impact being shown through Nathan’s withdrawal, there is something about watching Luke be isolated, teased for being like he is, trying, and failing, to be one of the group, and the stress of it all leading him to hurt himself. In those moments, it was almost like watching Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave. For while Butterfield is our lead and has the most backstory, it is Davies who honestly left the long lasting impact.
It isn’t just him, though. This film has, perhaps, the strongest supporting characters. Almost like, again to make comparisons, Orange is the New Black. Though, rather than this show use a Trojan horse of someone so generic they are just made for your comfort, the movie packs in a huge amount of people that could be the star of the movie. For, outside of Luke, there is Richard, who has MS and with that it makes working hard, dating even more difficult, and all the while he isn’t even 40 yet. In fact, his MS started as a teen and it seems to have caused the type of depression which makes it so when a character named Richard (Eddie Marsan) is introduced, and we hear him talk, it makes it so, again, you feel like another supporting character could easily switch places with Nathan and the movie could still be a quality production.
It honestly took me a few days to finish this film, and while trying to have a life was part of the reason for the delay, the main reason I honestly feel was because this movie gives a strong feeling of fatigue. For never mind the fact almost every character has their own problems, featured at various levels, but also the pace makes you sometimes feel like you are doing a marathon of a 10 episode season. For each act honestly feels like it goes on forever and while it benefits you, the viewer, for it helps you really get into the characters, it does make it so the nearly 2-hour length of the film feels far longer than that.
Overall: TV Viewing
I think the best way to explain A Brilliant Young Mind or X+Y is to put it into that category of films which perhaps should have become a mini-series or a full-fledged series. For it has so many excellent stories packed in that honestly, I felt sometimes that there was so much more the film could have done. Yet, at the same time, a part of me also feels that if this was a series, it would never make the ratings it would need to. Thus making for a film which hits you right where it needs to in order to get you invested in the characters, but with it putting so much time and effort into you feeling for them, it ultimately leaves you fatigued. To the point where you walk away from the film feeling a weight on your shoulders, tears in your eyes, and in need of a nap.