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X + Y

SYNOPSIS: Autistic teenage maths prodigy Nathan (Asa Butterfield) struggles when it comes to building relationships with other people, not least with his mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins). In a world difficult to comprehend, he finds numbers satisfying and safe. When Nathan is taken under the wing of unconventional teacher, Mr. Humphreys (Rafe Spall), the pair forge an unusual friendship. Eventually, Nathan's talents win him a place on the UK National team at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) and the team travel to a training camp in Taiwan, under the supervision of squad leader Richard (Eddie Marsan). In unfamiliar surroundings, Nathan is confronted by a series of unexpected challenges - not least the unfamiliar feelings he begins to experience for his Chinese counterpart, the beautiful Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), feelings that develop when the young mathematicians return to England for the IMO, held at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Review by Louise Keller:
Mathematical formulas solve more than complicated equations in this multi-layered drama in which heightened intelligence, anti-social behaviour, fitting in and discovering love are key. Canvassing a topic he addressed in his 2007 documentary Beautiful Young Minds, director Morgan Matthews has sensitively created a wonderful film that delves into emotionally rich themes. Like a mathematical equation that is grounded in logic, there are the black and white issues of winning and losing. But some things, like accepting the way we are, complete with flaws, insecurities and insurmountable problems, are far from logical. It is these things that form the core of the film, allowing our hearts to soar, as a chaotic cacophony becomes a harmonious symphony.

On one level, X + Y is about Nathan (Asa Butterfield), a brilliant teen who sees the world differently from everyone else. He likes patterns and colours. He has plenty to say but is afraid to say it. His talents in mathematics lead him to the prestigious International Mathematical Olympiad, where for the first time (at a training camp in Taipei), he is surrounded by kindred spirits. Like Nathan, they have brilliant minds and varying degrees of similarly anti-social behaviour.

Butterfield, who dazzled us in Hugo (2011) and Ender's Game (2013), is wonderful here, with vulnerable features and piercing blue eyes, being forced to adapt, when thrown into the deep end. There are many issues with which to contend, including change, close proximity, competition and social interaction.

There are other complex issues, including the painfully dysfunctional relationship between Nathan and his mother Julie (Sally Hawkins, extraordinary). She is the mother who loves unconditionally but gets nothing in return. We can almost feel her pain when her son refuses to hold her hand, kiss or hug her. Hawkins' expressive face throughout haunts.

We are also exposed to the plight of Nathan's teacher Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall), whose ever-jocular manner conceals his inability to cope with his own personal demons. Spall manages to make the gruff Humphreys appealing and his relationship with Julie develops with delicacy. Eddie Marsan is a strong presence as the forthright maths coach who looks out for Nathan.

Mathematics is the springboard for Nathan's development. He learns that music is also mathematical and that beautiful sounds are formed by frequency ratios. But the catalyst for change is Jo Yang (Zhang Mei, lovely), the Chinese maths student with whom Nathan is paired. The flush of first love has never been so poignant.

Everything comes together at a coffee shop in Cambridge, when Nathan and Julie have the most important conversation of their lives and where complex equations are used as a meaningful metaphor. This is a beautiful film on many levels. I laughed and cried through the highs and lows, satisfied by the richness of the emotional journey as it comes to a spectacular conclusion.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A genre-fusing film in which our hero comes of age and battles the relationship symptoms autism, X + Y is both touching and tough. Asa Butterfield (Hugo, Ender's Game) brings his youthful yet mature talents to the role of Nathan, his big blue eyes the mouthpiece of his caged emotions.

He is surrounded by a superb British cast, with Rafe Spall magnificently crumbly and rustic as the maths teacher suffering a more physical disability than Nathan, Eddie Marsan as the down to earth but sincere maths squad coach, Sally Hawkins often heartbreaking as Nathan's single mum, distraught at being kept at arm's length from her son by his condition, and English-born sweet young Jo Yang as Chinese maths challenger Zhang Mei.

None of the secondary characters are treated lightly; Martin McCann, for example, as the troubled maths team member Michael, delivers a riveting characterisation, and Alex Lawther, unforgettable as the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, brings his unique screen presence to the character of Isaac, another maths team member. These characters add vibrancy and authenticity to the film, and not a little emotional weight.

Although James Graham's screenplay is in the familiar genre territory of 'team competition challenge', the story is actually not about that, which gives the film a more complex texture. But then, let's face it, a detailed maths competition would not make great cinema ... Graham concentrates on the various obstacles facing Nathan, from family tragedy to autism, from nerdiness to insecurity - and perhaps above all, the inability to either understand his predicament or change it. It's an astutely observed work.

Director Morgan Matthews maintains a finely tuned mood throughout, sympathetic without being cloying, and makes the dramatic elements raw and real. The scenes shot in Taiwan are documentary-like in their freshness and dynamics, while close ups play a crucial role in taking us into the characters and while the score is not to my taste, it works well for the film.

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X + Y (M)
(UK, 2014)

CAST: Sally Hawkins, Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann, Jake Davies, Alexa Davies, Alex Lawther, Orion Lee

PRODUCER: Laura Hastings-Smith, David M. Thompson

DIRECTOR: Morgan Matthews

SCRIPT: James Graham


EDITOR: Peter Lambert

MUSIC: Martin Phipps


RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes



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