It usually spells trouble when a movie goes through a number of lead characters. This particular role was originally meant for Dakota Fanning and then Charlize Theron (who remained as a producer), before finally the wonderful Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass) took it on.
Brain on Fire is based on the harrowing true story of Susannah Cahalan (Chloe Grace Moretz) who, at the age of 24 (21 in the film) was a healthy New Yorker who had just entered into a serious relationship and her first big job at the New York Post.
Over a number of months her behaviour begins to become more erratic. She’s always tired, she can’t focus or concentrate and her moods swing from elation to paranoia. She also begins seeing and hearing things.
Her doctors run tests, give her an MRI, but everything comes back fine yet Cahalan continues to regress.
Her father, Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, Captain America: The First Avenger), mother, Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix trilogy) and boyfriend, Thomas Mann (Project X, Kong: Skull Island) are all besides themselves with worry but refuse to believe that she is psychotic as the doctors are telling them.
Eventually, specialist Dr. Najjar is called, Navid Negahban (Mistresses (TV), American Sniper) who manages to diagnose her with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. A disease so rare that Calahan is just the 217th person to be diagnosed.
What writer and director Gerard Barrett (Glassland, Pilgrim Hill) shows is an amazingly delicate handling of such a raw and troubling subject.
The performances, from Moretz and Moss in particular, are wonderful. Moretz as the happy-go-lucky Calahan who has to swing from mood to mood, through violent fits and catatonic states, performs the role wonderfully.
Moss, as the mother who wants to push the doctors, shows us glimpses of greatness but perhaps isn’t afforded the platform here to really show herself.
The most touching and poignant moment though comes from Jenny Slate (Bob’s Burgers (TV), The LEGO Batman Movie), Calahan’s co-worker.
The chemistry the two have on-screen is wonderful, it’s like they’re old friends, and so when Slate visits Calahan in hospital and she’s basically catatonic by this stage, her reaction is heart-breaking yet a beautiful performance and wonderfully handled by Barrett.
Before-hand, in the office, the two bounce off each and Slate’s performance is such that it doesn’t really register whilst you’re watching, as your focus is on the equally-wonderful Moretz, but later you look back and realise just how good she was.
Brain on Fire is a wonderfully acted, exceptionally well-handled film, something that all involved with should be proud. And if it helps raise the awareness of this exceptionally rare disease, so-much the better.