Not Suited for Cinema – Review of Brain on Fire


Her parents – a cool turn by Carrie-Anne Moss contrasts with lots of strident shouting from Richard Armitage – keep the pressure on the medics to try and find the reason for Susannah’s sudden deterioration.

Fan Review of Brain On Fire

Many Thanks to Christine Toronto for taking the time to share.

Variety “Laughable Portrait” -Brain on Fire


Chloë Grace Moretz stars in a laughable portrait of a young woman suffering from a mysterious ailment that renders her psychotically paranoid.

Just when you thought the disease-of-the-week genre had run out of diseases, along comes “Brain on Fire,” a made-for-TV-style look at anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, an extremely rare autoimmune disorder that transforms an ambitious (but otherwise supremely uninteresting) young New York Post reporter into a raving psychotic. Based on the bestselling memoir by Susannah Cahalan, played here by Chloë Grace Moretz as a teeth-gnashing, plate-smashing nut case in apparent need of an exorcism, this embarrassingly earnest film — produced by Charlize Theron — argues for the importance of doctors going the extra mile, when textbook diagnoses won’t do. It’s the sort of role for which the Razzies were invented, and what little audience it finds will almost certainly be heckling as they watch Moretz implode.

If ever there was a movie for Lindsay Lohan — who followed a similar path of promise, meltdown, and tentative recovery — this is it, though the role was originally earmarked for Dakota Fanning. Moretz is a fine actress who comes across as little more than a puffy-looking Cabbage Patch Kid here: a bland, doll-faced blonde who’s tired of writing softball stories about social media, but wants to make a name for herself at work. On the continuum of young female characters determined to break into the unforgiving New York shark tank, Susannah falls somewhere between Anne Hathaway’s entitled “The Devil Wears Prada” assistant and the no-boundaries young journalist Morgan Saylor plays in the infinitely edgier “White Girl” — though she’s lucky to have a wise-cracking desk-mate (Jenny Slate) and compassionate editor (Tyler Perry!) in her corner.

She has also snagged New York’s most vanilla boyfriend, a relatively ambitionless musician played by Thomas Mann, who serenades her in the buff and seems to get along just fine with her divorced parents (Richard Armitage and Carrie-Anne Moss). We meet the latter, along with their new flames, at a confusing birthday picnic, when 24-year-old Susannah notices the first symptom that something isn’t right: She can’t blow out the candles on her own cake. Soon, she’s hearing voices, vacantly clutching her forehead, and stepping in front of taxi cabs — basically, acting like that first character to be infected in a zombie movie, the one who takes half an hour to realize what’s happening to her brain, but powerless to reverse the process. If the movie were better written, the effect would be no less horror-movie-worthy, since, for all intents and purposes, no one can identify what’s wrong with her.

A doctor with 20 years experience (Vincent Gale) takes one look and dismisses it as a standard case of “partying too hard.” Susannah’s parents aren’t too sure, demanding that the medical establishment do its job. Meanwhile, Moretz plays the character’s mounting paranoia like something out of daytime television, persecuted by water dripping in the sink at home (“What!? Do it again!” she challenges the offending faucet) or climbing on cabinets and shrieking at her colleagues at work. All of this feels far removed from director Gerard Barrett’s sphere of comfort. What distinguished the Irish helmer’s first two features — “Pilgrim Hill” and “Glassland,” in which Toni Collette plunged alcoholism’s raw rock bottom — was precisely his ability to resist the kind of cutesy melodrama he’s cooked up here.

After decades of celebrating the commitment of actors for sensitively portraying physical and mental disorders on-screen, audiences have become wary of indulgent (and worse, patronizing) stunt performances, à la Gary Oldman’s turn as a dwarf in “Tiptoes” or Rosie O’Donnell playing it “slow” in “Riding the Bus with My Sister.” We live in an era of ironic detachment — the age of snark — in which jaded audiences have an increasingly hard time keeping a straight face when confronted with such superficial bids for empathy. (Contrast that with another Toronto film festival premiere, “Maudie,” which practically ignores its protagonist’s crippling arthritis in an attempt to capture her soul instead.) But who is the real Susannah Cahalan? Apart from her ailment, why should we care? This film suggests that all she needed was a good doctor (played here by Navid Negahban) to restore her otherwise perfect life, though any script doctor can tell you the film’s problems run deeper than that, and chances are, if you could cut past the glib first-person narration, Cahalan has a far more compelling story to tell.

Love You, Lenox Hill

If you could love a hospital, then Perry loves Lenox Hill, essentially, the Perry family “local” hospital -mother, three aunts, one uncle, brother, cousin, two close friends, and me – twice. That’s just who I can remember. So shout out to Lenox Hill, and the nurse with the bright blue hair.  But your coffee sucks.

FYI, ahead of the game in raising awareness. here

And, a little coincidence for me – the fundraiser referred to took place at The Walter Reade Theater at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, one of my former clients. I spent many an hour at 165 West 65th – what a neat address. Good perks for me.

THR Brain on Fire Review – Another Ouch

The Hollywood Reporter

In two days, two “ouches” for a Richard Armitage character. Note- in both the Berlin Station review and this, it’s the written character that’s criticized – not the actor.

One of the weaknesses of the movie is that Rhona, Susannah’s banker father Tom (Richard Armitage) and Stephen all lack definition as characters, so they just hover uninterestingly on the sidelines as Susannah goes from screaming anxiety to unhinged euphoria while being shuffled from one doctor to the next. Perry and Slate give their characters more substance and personality, but they disappear for much of the movie.

As Susannah’s condition worsens and continues to flummox medics, the film just gets stuck in a repetitive pattern that drains rather than builds tension, a problem inherent in both the writing and editing. There should be some emotional investment in the family’s reluctance to send her to a psych hospital, as well as a flood of relief when a doctor finally identifies the problem. But the family connections are so mechanically drawn that it’s dramatically ineffectual and emotionally flat.

As an aside, I always wonder how people who haven’t seen a film can criticize the critics – but this seems to be the case here. Richard Armitage fans are willing to defend his work, and anything he’s involved with, just because Richard Armitage. I think this dilutes the impact and meaningfulness of our opinions.

To me, and as I said during the chat accompanying the press conference yesterday, they could have spent the money on raising awareness through an educational campaign for health care professionals –  those who need the awareness more than patients.

This says it all:


“So Much Armitage”

Brain on Fire – Guardian Review


From a personal viewer standpoint, I had very little hope for this film , or any sort of special kudos for Richard Armitage, who plays the father. I don’t like medical dramas or medical mysteries or inspirational stories. I don’t even like talking about medical conditions or hearing about them – a character  trait I’ll need work on as I get older and spend more time with a load of people who have “conditions”.

I was clearly correct, after reading the book, that his role in this was going to be marginal. But, if given the chance, of course I will see it. If I can do David Copperfield, I can do anything.