×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘X+Y’

A fiction loosely based on fact that adds up to a satisfying, compelling drama.

With:
Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann, Jake Davies, Edward Baker-Close.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3149038/

Shrewdly calculated to warm hearts with formulaic yet affecting elements of emotional uplift, “X+Y” zeroes in on a young math whiz who only gradually comprehends the basics of establishing relationships with other people. Deconstructionist critics and mainstream moviegoers alike may find it difficult not to reference “Rain Man,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “David and Lisa” while describing the movie to potential ticketbuyers. But even though such comparisons are hardly inapt, director Morgan Matthews’ debut fiction feature  inspired by his acclaimed 2007 documentary “Beautiful Young Minds”  proves potent on its own terms as a satisfying, compelling drama with definite crossover potential on screens of all sizes.

Much like its nonfiction predecessor, “X+Y” focuses on student competitors in the Intl. Mathematics Olympiad (IMO). In concert with scripter James Graham, Matthews has spun off a scenario about a character not unlike one of the more memorable subjects in “Beautiful Young Minds,” a neurodevelopmentally challenged math prodigy named Daniel Lightwing.

In the world according to “X+Y,” the prodigy is Nathan Ellis, a Yorkshire youngster who, during the film’s early scenes, is diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, and credibly portrayed by Edward Baker-Close as a skittish introvert who fixates on the fascinating “patterns” of mathematics. Young Nathan manages to forge an affectionate bond with his simpatico father (Martin McCann). But after Dad dies in an auto mishap, the boy is unable, or unwilling, to share a similarly warm connection with Julie (Sally Hawkins), his indefatigably attentive and endlessly patient mom.

Nathan is scarcely more emotionally open with Martin Humphreys (Rafe Spall), a sardonic yet sensitive teacher who once excelled as a math prodigy, and even competed in the IMO, before a toxic mix of self-loathing and multiple sclerosis undermined his ambitions. But Martin is quick to recognize and eager to nurture Nathan’s nascent skills. By the time Nathan is old enough for Baker-Close to pass the character over to top-billed Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”), Martin is ready for a return to the IMO  this time, as the tutor for a most promising up-and-comer.

Humphreys and Hawkins give such fine, full-bodied performances in their richly detailed roles, and develop such pleasing chemistry as Martin and Julie warily warm to each other, that “X+Y” veers perilously close to losing its balance during its middle section. Indeed, there are times when some viewers will feel disappointed, or frustrated, when the narrative shifts away from the Martin/Julie subplot  and from Martin’s understandable anxiety about the inevitable failing of his health  so the film can continue charting Nathan’s progress.

Fortunately, Matthews and Graham have made Nathan’s own narrative sufficiently engrossing to sustain empathy and generate a rooting interest as the protagonist journeys to Taipei for an IMO preliminary, interacts with other young prodigies  including Luke (an outstanding Jake Davies), a socially maladroit autistic who’s a closet Monty Python fan  and ultimately arrives at Cambridge for the IMO version of the main event.

Butterfield is admirably unafraid to duly emphasize Nathan’s less endearing qualities  his arrogant self-absorption, his refusal to even hold his mum’s hand when she longs to express maternal love  while at the same time subtly expressing first the aching loneliness of his character’s obsession, and later the first signs of Nathan’s emergence from his emotional isolation. The latter development is expedited by Nathan’s sweetly chaste budding relationship with Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), a member of the Chinese IMO team.

At several points throughout “X+Y,” but especially during the locally colorful Taipei street scenes shot by ace lenser Danny Cohen, Matthews’ background as a documentarian is obvious and beneficial. But Matthews also demonstrates expertise as a director of actors, getting creditable performances across the board, including a slyly funny supporting turn by Eddie Marsan as squad leader for Team UK at the IMO. There are a few heavy-handed touches to the storytelling  most notably, an almost comically portentous closeup of a traffic light to presage the death of Nathan’s dad  but nothing unforgivable.

By the way, mathephobes shouldn’t fret: Matthews and Graham avoid delving too deeply into the specifics of mathematics, offering only snippets of questions and calculations to keep the plot moving. Still, “X+Y” does communicate an unabashed awe for the prowess demonstrated by Nathan and his fellow IMO competitors, which should delight those viewers who actually know what the characters are talking about.

Toronto Film Review: 'X+Y'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 7, 2014. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A BBC Films and BFI presentation in association with Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology, Screen Yorkshire and Lipsync Prods. of an Origin Pictures/Minnow Films production. (International sales: Bankside Films, London.) Produced by Laura Hastings-Smith, David M. Thompson, Ed Rubin. Executive producers, Christine Langan, Joe Oppenheimer, Lizzie Francke, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Hugo Heppell, Norman Merry, Peter Hampden.

Crew: Directed by Morgan Matthews. Screenplay, James Graham. Camera (color), Danny Cohen; editor, Peter Lambert; music, Mearl; production designer, Richard Bullock; art director, Julie Ann Horan; set decorator, Duncan Windram Wheeler; costume designer, Suzanne Cave; special effects supervisor, Ben Ashmore; sound, David Mitchell; assistant director, Matthew Hanson; casting, Shaheen Baig.

With: Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann, Jake Davies, Edward Baker-Close.

More Film

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, has died at 74. The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed his death, calling him a “dominant figure in the Hungarian and international film industry” who was responsible for the development of the fund. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. If estimates hold, “Glass” will come in behind “American Sniper” ($107 million) and “Ride Along” ($48 million) as the third-best showing for both January and MLK holiday [...]

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. She replaces Ivan Trujillo, appointed director of TV UNAM. More [...]

  • 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Review: A Quietly

    Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate'

    John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan may have received major award nominations this season for their fine work in “Stan & Ollie,” but there’s arguably a superior Laurel & Hardy tribute act to be found in the droll Danish comedy “St. Bernard Syndicate.” As a pair of bumbling losers who turn an already dubious business [...]

  • With PGA win, 'Green Book' is

    Oscars: With PGA Victory, 'Green Book' Becomes Best Picture Frontrunner

    Save for a pair of recent back-to-back discrepancies in “The Big Short” and “La La Land,” the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures has been a fairly reliable barometer for the annual Oscar season outcome. At least, ever since both the PGA and film Academy expanded their top categories, sharing the [...]

  • Peter Farrelly30th Annual Producers Guild Awards,

    PGA Awards: 'Green Book' Wins Top Feature Film Award

    “Green Book” has won the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award as the top feature film of 2018. The 1960s drama-comedy topped “BlacKkKlansman,” “Black Panther” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite,”  “A Quiet Place,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Andy Gruenberg, Veteran Film Executive, Dies at 68

    Veteran film executive Andy Gruenberg, who most recently oversaw theatrical distribution at Netflix, died suddenly on Friday. He was 68. Gruenberg worked on classic films like “Ghostbusters,” “Karate Kid” and “Silverado” while at Columbia Pictures in the 80s and 90s. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ He then [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content