×

Film Review: ‘A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story’

Sara Hirsh Bordo's documentary is an engaging portrait of its courageous subject, but a superficial rallying cry for anti-bullying legislation.

With:
Lizzie Velasquez, Tina Meier.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3735302/

Sara Hirsh Bordo’s cheerfully upbeat documentary offers an engaging if heavily sugared portrait of a courageous woman triumphing over a disfiguring genetic mutation that prevents her from gaining weight. Tracking the young Texan’s passage from bullied child to self-assured motivational speaker and lobbyist, “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story” is strong on Velasquez’s developing backbone and smarts with the support of school and family. As a rallying cry for anti-bullying legislation, however, the film is superficial, glossing over the rather vague and toothless act that Velasquez is still trying to push through Congress together with Tina Meier, the mother of an online bullying victim who committed suicide. Though Bordo is a touch too inclined to nudge Velasquez into sainthood, such is the force of her charm and determination that “A Brave Heart” will likely appeal to audiences beyond anti-bullying activists and disability advocates, though mostly in VOD, where it will debut simultaneously with its theatrical release.

In the first moments of “A Brave Heart,” a woman enters the frame, sits down, adjusts her hair and smiles. The gesture may be common enough in any woman about to appear in public; in Velasquez, a disability and anti-bullying activist in her 20s, it’s momentous and telling. Her hair is just dandy, but her face is wizened, her vision impaired, and her 58-pound body is as stick-thin as that of a skinny girl on the cusp of adolescence. Afflicted with a syndrome that, undiagnosed for years, prevents her from gaining weight, Velasquez can be a shock to behold on first encounter. But this articulate, intelligent woman carries herself with preternatural confidence, grace and unflappable friendliness. So much so that we quickly come to take for granted that her upcoming talk in front of a live Mexican audience of 10,000 will be a breeze for her and her listeners.

How Velasquez got to be an accomplished TED Talker from her radically premature birth is the journey followed in Bordo’s documentary, which is as sunny and positive as its subject. Bordo has abundant dramatic instincts: Velasquez’s transformation begins in teenage crisis, when an online bully posts a YouTube calling her “the Ugliest Woman in the World.” The video’s online traction and attendant cruel commentary devastate her — until she decides to fight fire with fire. With unfailing support from her terrific family, she creates her own, more conciliatory video, becomes an adept user of social media, and launches a thriving career as a motivational speaker.

At times the film comes across as boosterish publicity, stuffed with celebrity encounters that aren’t really necessary, the most awkward of which is a perfunctory meeting with Hillary Clinton, who seems to have been inadequately briefed on exactly to whom she’s talking.

Aside from one heartfelt conversation with Meier about their darker moments and brief scenes of Velasquez falling ill on her journey through the Capitol, “A Brave Heart” prefers uplift, neglecting the monumental effort it must have taken Velasquez’s equanimity, to say nothing of the stress on the family, in particular once she receives a daunting prognosis. The anti-bullying bill is lauded without scrutiny of its bland, possibly inoperable call for “zero tolerance” of school and online bullying. That this is controversial terrain — is it even possible to legislate against bullying? — goes unmentioned along with the much-discussed possibility voiced in passing by the subject’s father, that bullies are often damaged people, as sorely in need of help as their victims. Velasquez’s signal contribution to that debate may not be her lobbying, but her remarkably generous, forgiving nature and her charismatic sparkle. If ever there was a poster child for the adage that living well is the best revenge, it’s Lizzie Velasquez.

Film Review: 'A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story'

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, Aug. 23, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 78 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Cinedigm Entertainment release of a Women Rising production. Produced by Sara Hirsh Bordo. Executive producers, Julia Argyros, Stephanie Argyros, Lizzie Velasquez, Alexis Jones, Justine Ezarik.

Crew: Directed by Sara Hirsh Bordo. Written by Michael Campo. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Ben Powell; editor, Christopher Roldan; music, Sara Bareilles, Javier Dunn; re-recording mixer, Brad Engleking line producer, Jessica Chou; associate producers, Ngoc Nguyen, Tamar Teifeld, Michael Campo, Joanne Storkan.

With: Lizzie Velasquez, Tina Meier.

More Film

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

  • Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'Wandering

    Netflix Buys Chinese Sci-fi Hit 'Wandering Earth'

    Global streaming giant, Netflix has bought rights to “The Wandering Earth,“ the smash hit film which is pitched as China’s first mainstream sci-fi movie. The film was the sleeper hit of Chinese New Year — it opened in fourth position on Feb. 5 — but climbed to the top spot and has not yet relinquished [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT More Reviews TV Review: 'This Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy' Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh [...]

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as the parents of Superman. Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content