Since the sudden death of her husband, Julie (Sally Hawkins) has been desperate in her quest for the same love and approval that her brilliant, autistic son Nathan (played by Asa Butterfield) had for his late father. Nathan’s a shy and socially bewildered boy; a mathematical genius and yet he’s simply unable to formulate the necessary equations in his mathematical mind to tackle life and its myriad unpredictabilities.
X+Y is essentially Nathan’s world and how his rather insular existence not only affects the people closest to him, but somehow allows them to confront their own issues and personal demons in one way or another.
When done well, these kind of British, slice-of-life dramas tend to be the perfect blend of charm, poignancy and dry wit, components that X+Y has in abundance.
Rafe Spall in particular is superb as Humphreys, Nathan’s sarcastic, wise-cracking personal tutor and although his humour is probably lost on Nathan and is in itself more of a coping mechanism for him to deal with his own frustrations at living with the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis, it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times and the perfect antidote to Nathan’s occasional innocent, yet cutting, socially unaware outbursts.
When Nathan is chosen to represent British schools in the International Mathematical Olympiad in Taiwan, he is taken under the wing of no nonsense trip coordinator Richard, played by Eddie Marsan, whom, to my consistent shame, I can never seem to disassociate from his long past ‘Grange Hill’ days whenever I see him. He’s a whole lot better than that, clearly.
A whole new world of friendships, opportunities and experiences open up for Nathan here as he confronts both who he is and the social inadequacies that he struggles with, whilst Zhang Mei (a sweet performance by Jo Yang) enters his life and an innocent sort of forbidden, young love blossoms.
Morgan Matthews has cast the roles well and directs X + Y with great respect and affection.
I dislike the ‘feel-good’ label when attached to films, but in fairness, it’s pretty apt on this occasion. It’s not quite up there with the very best of British, but it’s a charming little piece nonetheless with its heart very firmly in the right place and that’s certainly no bad thing.
Well worth a watch.