Mathematical formulas prove more than just an answer to a complicated equation in ‘X+Y’, an exquisite, multi-layered drama that’s both poignant and hard-hitting. On the surface the film tells of Nathan (Asa Butterfield, best known for his work in 2011’s ‘Hugo’), an autistic teenager whose view on the world is drastically different from those around him. When his mathematical skills score him a place on the UK National team at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO), for the first time he doesn’t feel alone in the world as he surrounds himself with fellow intellectuals who all share his passion for maths, as well as his awkward anti-social behaviour.
Despite his comfort in his new environment, Nathan drifts into uncharted territory when he develops feelings for his maths partner Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), and it’s in this incarnation of first love that we get to experience one of the many human facets ‘X+Y’ presents us with; transformation, closeness, rivalry and social interaction just a few of the other issues burgeoning throughout. Spring-boarding off ideas he addressed in his 2007 documentary ‘Beautiful Young Minds’, director Morgan Matthews has delved deep into passionately rich themes, and extracted sublime performances from a stellar cast.
Butterfield is simply wonderful here, his big blue eyes exposing his vulnerability, and Yang is lovely as his romance counterpart. Elsewhere, Sally Hawkins turns in a brilliant yet painful performance as Nathan’s suffering mother who does nothing but love unconditionally, only to receive nothing in return, whilst Rafe Spall and Eddie Marsan provide strong support as the two educational figures in Nathan’s life. There is not one foot put wrong amongst this fine ensemble.
If you aren’t a fan of maths, and I imagine there’s a large sum who are in that category, you don’t have to fear that ‘X+Y’ will only focus on the educational aspect as the film gravitates more towards the obstacles in Nathan’s life which, despite the character’s autism, feels more organic and relatable to a general audience.