X + Y
dir Morgan Matthews
scr James Graham
prd Laura Hastings-Smith, David M Thompson
with Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann, Edward Baker-Close, Jake Davies, Alex Lawther, Alexa Davies, Orion Lee, Percelle Ascott
release UK 31.Mar.15
14/UK BBC 1h51
X + Y
It all adds up: Butterfield and Yang

hawkins spall marsan
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
X + Y Anchored by a strikingly effective performance from Asa Butterfield, this gentle British drama explores adolescent issues through a couple of intriguing filters. But far from being an issue movie, this is an involving story of a family emerging from grief using whatever imperfect methods they can find.

When his father (McCann) is killed in a car crash, Nathan (Baker-Close, then Butterfield) feels like he has lost his ability to connect with the world. A maths prodigy with a touch of autism, he struggles to get on with most people, including his cheerfully optimistic mother Julie (Hawkins). It's better with his cranky tutor Humphreys (Spall), who encourages Nathan to join the British team training in Taiwan for the International Mathematical Olympiad. Working with coach Richard (Marsan) and study partner Zhang Mei (Yang), Nathan finally starts exploring who he is.

Thankfully, the screenwriter Graham clearly never wants us to even try to understand the complex mathematics that swirl through every scene. The formulae are mercifully blurred into the background, used as a way to get into the minds of the characters. This approach is remarkable because it's not like any film we've seen before; it's so clever and effectively done that it reminds us how simplistic A Beautiful Mind was. Instead, this heartfelt film is completely centred on the people and their tricky interrelationships.

Director Matthews shoots every scene from Nathan's perspective, sharply catching the confusion of even the most basic social settings while digging deep into this thoughtful teen's unexpressed emotions. Butterfield plays the role with an unusual ease, never letting the quirks take over while maintaining a vivid depiction of Nathan's desperation for a sense of order. Watching him loosen up just a little bit is thrilling, because it's clear that he has so much to offer those around him. And a lot to learn from them as well.

All of the performances are equally grounded. Hawkins sharply catches the sadness and frustration underneath Julie's sunny surface. Spall combines gruff bitterness with genuine affection. And so on: everyone is a complex collection of likeable contradictions. Nothing about this film is simple, so the story never bogs down in either sentimentality or topicality. It may be about an autistic teenaged maths nerd, but everyone will be able to understand his journey and find a glimmer of hope as well.

cert 15 themes, language 4.Nov.14

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