Asa Butterfield continues to be one of the best young actors working today with X + Y, a drama focussing on the International Mathematics Olympiad. (I recently saw a film about landscape gardening, so a story concerning mathematics seems a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment.)
Butterfield plays Nathan, a teen ‘on the spectrum.’ His memories are haunted by tragedy and he finds regular human interaction troublesome. He is, however, exceptional at mathematics. So much so that his mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins), enrols him in classes well above his age level. His teacher is Humphreys, (Rafe Spall), a man who previously competed in the Mathematics Olympiad but has since burnt out. Now living with multiple sclerosis, the man is a shadow of his former self.
X + Y lays the tragedy on pretty thick. It’s all a bit midday movie – do they still have those? – however once the narrative gets moving, the script reveals itself to be quite adept at weaving multiple themes. The cinematography and sound editing does a good job of representing Nathan’s synaesthesia and other psychological troubles, and there are several sequences that are excellent examples of sight and sound working together. Martin Phipps’ score is wonderfully evocative, and it’s a shame it doesn’t seem available for purchase anywhere at the moment.
For me, however, the film tried to do too much. I was much more interested in Nathan’s story than that of the adults, though this mightn’t be the case for other viewers. Nathan goes to Taipei to train with the champion Chinese team, and there he meets Zhang Mei (Jo Yang). Yang’s performance seemed off-kilter, insofar as the sweeter moments between Zhang Mei and Nathan felt confusingly sinister. I was far more interested in Rebecca (Alexa Davies), but the narrative doesn’t do her character justice at all.
There’s a lot to like about X + Y, and though parts of it bothered me, your mileage may vary. There were some aspects that I felt deserved to be expanded upon, whilst others needed to be left on the cutting room floor. It boasts some fine performances, and as we all know from Ender’s Game, Butterfield has the uncanny ability to make uneven material work, such is his natural charisma and skill in front of the camera.Rating:
X + Y opens in Australia on 9 April 2015.