Billy Kent’s charming HairBrained comes from a long legacy of collegiate comedies but still finds its own identity.
After he fails to get into Harvard, 14-year-old genius and hair farmer Eli (Alex Wolff) must settle for the fictional Whittman College. Ranked the 37th best small liberal arts college on the East Coast, Whittman is home to lovable losers like Leo (Brendan Fraser), a 41-year-old gambler trying to make a fresh start.
The picture’s primary relationship isn’t so much between Eli and Leo, but rather Eli and the members of Whittman’s Collegiate Mastermind Team, who harness his encyclopedic knowledge of useless information in hopes of avoiding getting pounded by the quiz team from Eli’s beloved Harvard.
HairBrained avoids becomes a slobs-versus-snobs comedy, the requisite jock bully is a minor character at best, and the expected elements of Eli learning to lighten up and Leo learning to take responsibility are nicely underplayed, as is Eli’s relationship with a similarly frizzy-maned townie (Julia Garner).
Trivia buffs will feast on the Masterminds sequences — more movies should find excuses to reference Dock Ellis’s legendary LSD-fueled no-hitter — but HairBrained is ultimately a celebration of being unapologetically smart and different, and an acknowledgment that sometimes you really do need a lot of hair to protect your brain.