X+Y challenges cinema’s proclivity for autistic geniuses, exploring the pressures this stereotype places on the autistic members of a Mathematics Olympiad.

Nathan (Asa Butterfield) struggles with social awkwardness exacerbated by the death of his father and inability to identify with his mother (Sally Hawkins). Essentially a coming of age tale, Nathan’s autism offers a stimulating perspective on the genre in this first feature from documentary filmmaker Morgan Matthews. The customary ‘first love’ angle goes beyond the familiar boy-becomes-man motif, contributing instead to Nathan’s developing relationship with his mum.
X+Y Asa Butterfield

It’s social distance and the effort it takes to reach one another that lies at the heart of X+Y. Nathan’s maths tutor (Rafe Spall) faces his own social demons as a result of multiple sclerosis, while fellow maths competitor Luke (Jake Davies) disguises his public unease with bravado. Nathan proves unable to stand-up for, or console, his teammate but Morgan elicits a pained silence from Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas) that reveals his inner struggle. Spall’s charming off-key humour provides X+Y’s poignant laughs but its Butterfield’s quiet attempts to dovetail mathematics with love that delivers the dramatic punch.

Based partly in the populated cities of Taiwan, Morgan (whose 2007 documentary Beautiful Young Minds followed young maths prodigies) conjures autistic sensory overload in vibrant streetlights which echo and bleed. It’s a spirited aesthetic from a director with much promise, muting all allegations of sentimental calculation on account of his charming cast.

VERDICT: ★★★★ 4/5


Certificate: 12A
Running time: 111 minutes
UK release date: 13 March 2015


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