A BRAVE HEART Review: There Will Be No Slack On Your Heartstrings

A moving documentary about a remarkable woman.

Imagine you’re in high school, which for many of us means you’re experiencing the height of your insecurities. And it’s not just your imagination that makes you insecure. There’s something really different about you physically that instantly separates you from other people. Now imagine that you accidentally stumble upon a very popular YouTube video calling you the ugliest person in the world. It’s just eight seconds of your face. You look at comments below and find people wondering aloud why you don’t just kill yourself.

That’s the situation that kicks off A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez story. Now a public figure fighting against the harms of bullying, Lizzie should be recognizable to many from her Ted Talk or her YouTube videos. Lizzie was born with a gene mutation that keeps her from gaining any weight, an issue further exacerbated by a childhood filled with surgeries. Nevertheless, she remains positive and optimistic and uses her fame to kickstart and give a face to the national bullying conversation.

A Brave Heart tells Lizzie’s story, starting first with an inward focus on her life growing up different from other children, then following her as she begins reaching out to others and working toward raising public awareness of bullying.

The movie is best during the first, far more biographical half. Through home movies of Lizzie’s infancy and talking head interviews with her parents, we learn to fall for her right away. As we hear her father discuss the anxiety he felt over her first day of school, we share his instinct to protect Lizzie. In this very personal stage, the film creates a real bond between Lizzie and the viewer. With that established, her telling of how she discovered this YouTube video about her becomes almost devastating.

Of course, Lizzie doesn’t succumb to grief, but instead uses the incident as a catalyst toward not only taking hold of her life and living it to the fullest but also using her story to help others. This ultimately leads to her famous Ted Talk and a series of speeches that allow her to travel the world.

The film isn’t quite as interesting during this second half because our perspective on Lizzie no longer feels as personal. There are occasionally moments that bring it back - particularly one sequence in which we witness Lizzie work herself to a point where she lacks the strength to stand - but we are no longer examining her life. Instead, the film focuses on the lives she touches with her message. That is obviously very important, but it’s not as emotionally or narratively rich.

Nevertheless, at just under eighty minutes, A Brave Heart tells a warm, inspiring story without belaboring the point or resorting to open emotional manipulation. And if you don’t see it, you’re a bully.