X+Y was a rare cinematic treat for me; a film that I knew nothing about, or had seen any footage from, prior to seeing it. That in itself could be one of the main reasons I enjoyed it as much as I did, with most films I see these days revealing most of the plot, and all the ‘best bits’, to the point where I feel like I’ve seen the film a hundred times before, without even seeing it. Whilst a refreshing viewing experience in this case, my enjoyment of X+Y does go further than that though; the film is a solidly made dramedy, if at times flawed.
The story itself is one about communication and grief, focusing on Nathan, who is diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum, at a very young age. Obsessed with patterns and order, he finds himself to be a keen mathematician and is tutored from an early age by a former mathematic prodigy. Reclusive and distant from most people, inparticularly his mother, Nathan has to confront his social awkwardness, as well as his fears of change, when he travels to Taiwan, after he lands a spot in the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad. The sights, the sounds, and his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Mei, all help in brining Nathan out of his shell, as he deals with his traumatic past.
Consistently witty and often touching, X+Y is a lovely, little surprise. Directed by Morgan Matthews and written by James Graham, both of whom have primarily had experience in television, it at times does feel slightly televisual. The whole thing is elevated to something much more cinematic through Danny Cohen’s photography, which finds beauty in the rain soaked streets of Taiwan, using fluorescent colour as a recurring visual theme. Complimented with a fantastic soundtrack, various moods of romance, adventure, and melancholy are created, which makes X+Y a much more emotional, rather than intelligent watch. The case in point would be a sequence where Nathan finally has to take to the blackboard and explain a complicated equation to his teammates. I had no idea what jargon was being said, but through the swelling music, and the great performance from Asa Butterfield, it moved me beyond my understanding.
Performance plays a big part in the film’s success. After having a crack at a big blockbuster with Ender’s Game, it’s nice to see Butterfield return to a smaller, more personal picture. He’s great in the role of Nathan, although outshines considerably by the rest of his cast; which is understandable in the sense that he has the most difficult job out of all of them. Rafe Spall is a joy to watch, as is Eddie Marsan, but the show-stealer is easily Sally Hawkins, who plays Nathan’s mother. It’s the mother-son relationship that is at the heart of the story, as she desperately tries to reach some kind of understanding with her son. Hawkins brings her usual likeability and charm to a sympathetic role, and it’s her endearing performance that makes X+Y riveting.
As I mentioned before, it isn’t perfect and is a little self-indulgent with its length. The unnecessary ten minutes or so is a minor quibble in the grander scheme though; whilst X+Y is far from remarkable, its charm, performances, style and music, could very well make it one of this year’s hidden gems.
Image credit to http://www.biggestmoviebox.com