X+Y challenges cinema’s proclivity for autistic geniuses, exploring the pressures this stereotype places on the autistic members of a Mathematics Olympiad.
Nathan (Asa Butterfield) struggles with social awkwardness exacerbated by the death of his father and inability to identify with his mother (Sally Hawkins).
Essentially a coming of age tale, Nathan’s autism offers a stimulating perspective on the genre in this first feature from documentary filmmaker Morgan Matthews. The customary ‘first love’ angle goes beyond the familiar boy-becomes-man motif, contributing instead to Nathan’s developing relationship with his mum.
It’s social distance and the effort it takes to reach one another that lies at the heart of X+Y. Nathan’s maths tutor (Rafe Spall) faces his own social demons as a result of multiple sclerosis, while fellow maths competitor Luke (Jake Davies) disguises his public unease with bravado.
Nathan proves unable to stand-up for, or console, his teammate but Morgan elicits a pained silence from Butterfield that reveals his inner struggle. Spall’s charming off-key humour provides X+Y’s poignant laughs but its Butterfield’s quiet attempts to dovetail mathematics with love that delivers the dramatic punch.
This is a director with much promise, muting all allegations of sentimental calculation on account of his charming cast.