Asa Butterfield shines in this earnest drama about a super-smart British kid whose math skills far outpace his social ones. Nathan is an autistic lad who gets a chance to join his country’s team on the international math Olympiad. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, perhaps the entryway to the highest tiers of academia, but his shy manner and trouble relating with other teens also makes it a forbidding challenge.
First-time feature film director Morgan Matthews and screenwriter James Graham show their inexperience, layering in too many supporting characters and tertiary storylines. It’s not these background players are uninteresting – exactly the opposite, in fact.
For instance, Rafe Spall as Nathan’s mentor, a former Olympiad now battling multiple sclerosis, is so compelling that he steals too much of the spotlight from the main character. He almost needs his own movie. Then the filmmakers have the teacher start a romance with Mathan’s mum, played by the great Sally Hawkins, which just comes across as distracting and even creepy.
Still, the film finds its footing once Nathan and his team arrives in China, where they begin a friendly contest of wills with the home team. The boy tries to incorporate himself with his teammates but struggles, especially with the strong-willed Luke (Jake Davies). Meanwhile, Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) of the Chinese team offers her friendship … and perhaps something more, which Nathan is wholly unequipped to deal with.
“A Brilliant Young Mind” is a flawed but worthy cinematic effort. Too many movies nowadays give us lazy stories and unoriginal characters. Here’s a film that tries to do too much.
Alas, the film is being released on video without bonus features of any kind.