Friday, 14 August 2015


Maths is one of many things that people seem to either love or hate. I hated it at school. I wasn’t bad at it, but I didn’t exactly excel at it either. But some people really enjoy it, and some even find great comfort in it. x+y tells the story of one of these people.

Out now on Blu-Ray and DVD is x+y (known as A Brilliant Young Mind in the US). Directed by Morgan Matthews and written by James Graham,  x+y focuses on autistic maths prodigy Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield) doesn’t understand the world. After losing his close father at a very young age, Nathan distances himself from most human contact – even with his hard-working single mother (Sally Hawkins). But what he does understand is maths, and he finds a great escape in numbers, patterns and equations. After meeting unconventional teacher Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall), Nathan is encouraged to take his talent to the next level and try out for the International Mathematics Olympiad. Along the way he finds new confidence, a new understanding of the world and perhaps finally, a place to belong. Do not dismiss this film if, like me, you dislike maths and think it’ll just all be numbers and equations. The film is a universal drama with universal themes, and broad appeal.

x+y is a very deep piece – deeper than it looks on the surface, even. It’s the most accurate and moving portrayal of autism I’ve seen in a while, performed by a fantastic cast. Asa Butterfield, who I had previously brushed off as just another child actor after roles in Ender’s Game and Hugo, is absolutely phenomenal as Nathan. Barely speaking for a lot of the film and using only his eyes to express the social confusion, fear and loneliness; Butterfield deserves major awards recognition for this performance, especially at his young age. But the film is an ensemble piece overflowing with talent. Rafe Spall steals every scene as the broken Mr Humphreys, fighting his own inner battle of depression and multiple sclerosis, but still bringing the majority of the film’s laughs with his lad attitude. Sally Hawkins is further cementing her role as British cinema’s go-to mum, but gives us her finest mum yet as the exhausted and lonely single mother who accurately portrays what it is like to care for an autistic child. But for me, one of the stand-out performances here is a rather understated one from the fantastic Eddie Marsan. Unlike the other characters, he isn’t portraying loneliness or illness. Instead, he’s giving us one of the most well observed education-based characters in film – a character that everyone who has been to school can relate to.

x+y is stunningly well shot, especially for an independent drama like this. There are some phenomenal visuals throughout, including some great on-location sequences in Taiwan. The pacing is great, the script is fantastic, and the music is powerful. I could go on listing things that x+y impressed me with for a while, as this is a film where everything is done right. Or is it? The film is 5-star material for the lion’s share of the film. However, towards the end, something happened which disappointed me. Up until this point, the film was about overcoming your disabilities and past to make something of yourself and achieve your potential. It almost felt like a sports film - right down to a character even saying that maths is just like sport, but for people who are strong in mind. But unfortunately, the film throws that away and becomes a rather cliché romance between Nathan and another girl in the Olympiad. It creates some great symbolic sequences of him overcoming his recurring troubles we’ve seen in the film, but for me the romance just felt a bit forced and unnecessary. It was arguably even done at the expense of closure for other characters, who were brushed under the rug towards the end. But, when the film works, it bloody works. This is the only quibble I had, and when I look back at the film, the romantic ending seems inconsequential.

x+y is an absolutely phenomenal little independent film that made me laugh, cry and feel inspired. Isn’t that all you want from a film like this? It’s phenomenally acted, shot, written and produced across the board. Sure, the romance stuff was a little forced, but on the whole x+y moved me beyond words.

x+y finds the formula for a fantastic film and earns 5/5.


Sam Love

x+y at CeX

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