X+Y (UK/12A/111mins)
Directed by Morgan Matthews. Starring Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Rafe Spall.

THE PLOT: Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is a math prodigy, who also registers on the spectrum of autism. Increasingly isolated after his father dies, Nathan finds a new friend in teacher Humphreys (Rafe Spall), who convinces him to take part in the International Mathematics Olympiad.

THE VERDICT: X+Y is inspired by a BBC documentary titled BEAUTIFUL YOUNG MINDS, and places a character who has always shunned human contact in an environment where he either makes friends or spends his time alone.

Asa Butterfield has made a career of playing bright yet isolated characters, and carries this on in X+Y. This is not to say that his performance is not strong, it is, but this is something we know he can do because we have seen it before in HUGO and ENDER’S GAME. Sally Hawkins plays Nathan’s mum, with delicacy and care, Rafe Spall plays a foul mouthed and complacent genius, with struggles of his own and Eddie Marsan plays Richard, the man who tutors the kids for the international competition.

James Graham’s screenplay does err on the side of the convenient, but this is not to say that the film is not carefully crafted and well told. There are many moving moments, and the relationships between the characters are charming. Graham also seems to understand the delicacy of portraying a socially awkward character on screen.

Morgan Matthews balances well the emotion and the struggle within Nathan, while allowing the audience to find out more about the character as the film goes on. Matthews has also created sweet and gentle chemistry between the characters that works, even when the film is at its most convenient.

In all, X+Y is a gentle and charming story, anchored with strong performances from Butterfield, Spall, Hawkins and Marsan. The emotion is strong and honest throughout the film, even if it does all wrap up a little too conveniently.

Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Gentle & charming
  • filmbuff2011

    X+Y. Maths + Family = a reasonably good film. That’s the basic formula behind X+Y, a low-key but effective British family drama with an international flavour. Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is a socially awkward teenager who is a genius with numbers, but not so great when it comes to understanding the complexities of human behaviour. He’s still suffering from the loss of his father Michael (Martin McCann), something which his attentive mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) notices. Nathan is given the chance to prove his skills with maths by taking part in the Olympiad – a mental gymnastics exam in which the sport is maths. He travels to Taiwan to compete, with teacher Richard (Eddie Marsan) guiding him. When he’s paired up with cute Chinese teenager Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), she opens his closed eyes to a very different formula: the one that nobody can truly understand… Written by James Graham and directed by TV documentary director Morgan Matthews, X+Y could best be described as a teenage Rain Man. Nathan is a shy, sensitive boy but deep within lies a genius who could be capable of greater things. Butterfield, who also featured recently in Hugo and Ender’s Game, has a quiet intensity to him. If Ender’s Game saw him unleash his inner rage, he contains it within his latest character. It’s a finely judged performance and he’s more than able to hold the screen against veterans like Hawkins, Marsan and Rafe Spall. For all its mathematical formulas and talk of achieving greatness, it’s a film that feels like an underachiever. A bit like Nathan himself, the story never fully delivers and struggles to achieve flight at times. If you’re an expecting a climactic ending in which Nathan sweeps away all competition before him… well, it’s not that kind of film. It focuses more on family, what it means to be a child prodigy and adult-child relationships. There’s a lot to admire in this small, low-key film – but not quite enough to make it a recommended watch. One for the curious, perhaps seeking an alternative choice this week. ***