By Maahin Akhlaque.
Director Morgan Matthews uses the basis of one of his successful documentaries, Beautiful Young Minds as the backdrop of X+Y, his first feature film. In it, Nathan (Asa Butterfield) trains to compete in the International Mathematics Olympiad, under the training of a former maths-wiz, played by Rafe Spall. Diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum at a young age, he sees the world differently to everyone else, which his widowed mother, Sally Hawkins, finds difficult to deal with.
It is always interesting to see how different filmmakers deal with autistic characters, and going by his experience in working with mathematical geniuses, Morgan Matthews goes for the super-smart but socially awkward stereotype of Asperger Syndrome. Not that the stereotype isn’t based on a particular kind of autism, but the severity of Nathan’s autism seems to alter depending on what is necessary for the story. Of course, it is fictional, and therefore they are allowed to take creative liberties, but it is a massive decision to make about a character, and then to not see it through properly irritated me as a viewer.
Having had my little rant about the character of Nathan, I will say that the performances of both Asa Butterfield and Edward Baker-Close, who plays a younger Nathan, are pretty good. However I feel about the director the character was taken in, I was impressed by their portrayal of it. Sally Hawkins is absolutely wonderful as Julie, the widowed mother. The struggle of dealing with her son’s OCD, and his complete apparent lack of feeling towards her is heart-breaking to watch. Rafe Spall, who plays Nathan’s teacher and mentor, has his own subplot going about Multiple Sclerosis, which to be honest isn’t completely necessary, nor does it really relate to Nathan’s story, but Spall gives a good performance anyway. The character could have come across as a horrible, bitter person, but he’s actually likeable and proves worthy of the audience’s sympathy.
X+Y is a little confused about the film it wants to be. It starts off as a story about an autistic maths genius, but also wants to explore young love, as well as the difficulties of being a single parent, and having an incurable illness. It also tries to be a crowd-pleaser by being a bit too “Hollywood”. It has great intentions, and it shows, and it has some wonderfully touching moments, and is light-hearted when it needs to be. But it doesn’t leave much of an impression, however much potential it might show.
X+Y releases 13th March 2015 in the UK.
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