By Daryl Bär
Struggling in a world he finds difficult to comprehend, teenage maths prodigy Nathan (Asa Butterfield) finds comfort in numbers but struggles building relationships with others, not least his mother (played by the sublime Sally Hawkins). Finding guidance in the most unlikely of tutors, Nathan’s gifts take him to Taiwan and a placement with the UK National Team at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO). During his training in Taipei he is lumbered with similarly talented teens and struggles with the unpredictable and irrational notion of affections, and the immeasurable complexities of love.
As the debut feature from filmmaker Morgan Matthews the roots of X+Y can be found in his BAFTA nominated documentary Beautiful Young Minds. Capturing the extraordinary abilities and emotional intricacies that befall a young man on the autistic spectrum could have been disastrously handled with a great deal less finesse and subtlety. There’s more than a modicum of restraint in both the storytelling and execution that contribute to making X+Y such an engaging motion picture. Utilizing the arsenal of Butterfield, Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan and newcomer Jo Yang, the dramatic elements are never trivialized, nor are the emotional heft bogged down with Spielbergian cattle-prod sentimentality.
There’s great levity and hardships in equal turn as Nathan encounters the complicated pitfalls of teenage urges and his desire to make the most of his mathematic abilities. Spall’s fallen mathematics whizz Humphreys battles his own demons with MS while widowed Hawkins longs for physical and emotional contact from her brilliant son. X+Y takes a delicate yet fascinating subject matter and weaves an endearing tale of love, logic and enduring through grief, gifts and impediments.
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