X + Y doesn't add up the way we think it should

Director: Morgan Mathews
Writer: James Graham
Release date: March 19

X+Y follows Nathan, (Asa Butterfield) an awkward, idiosyncratic boy who has an extraordinary ability at maths. He is grappling with the sudden death of the one person who understood him; his father. As he struggles to connect with those around him, he is introduced to an anarchic and unconventional maths teacher who takes the boy under his wing.

Soon Nathan finds himself selected for the UK Mathematics Squad and, against the odds, representing his country in Taipei. Over there, the academically gifted aren't bullied but celebrated, envied and even invited to parties. Nathan's rational brain can cope with the most complex of maths problems just fine, the real test comes when he meets his female exchange partner, Zhang Mei, and has to cope with falling in love and having to understand, communicate and express feelings and emotions.

He is a boy who sees things differently and feels things differently having a mixture of autistism and OCD. Even though we are never really shown how his understanding of maths is different, we understand it is about patterns.

When Nathan realises he is attracted to the young Chinese girl, he even looks up the formula for love but, even though the equation seems straightforward, it doesn’t help him.

Butterfield conveys the complexities of the part with an impressive performance, especially in scenes where he is unable to read people's responses, has to learn about emotional responses and comprehend jokes. He conveys some of the less endearing qualities of Nathan – his arrogance and, self-absorption, which are both burdens as well as his way of coping.

The film raises issues about how to parent children with special abilities, to understand that they may have to relate differently and accept a role which is an observer rather than a participant. Nathan has difficulty with his mother who he does not share his interest with because he regards her as “not clever enough”.

There is an implied criticism of the hot house forced participation and completion of these young people who often have flawed personalities but countries use them as a means of promoting success in academic areas. It is the downside of success where individuals have to curtail certain desires and needs to achieve.

In a parallel story, Nathan’s tutor Martin (Rafe Spall) and his mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) form a relationship and also have to struggle with new ways of relating in which each has flawed personalities. It is the loner, Martin who provides the impetus for Nathan to achieve success as well providing comfort to Julie – an unlikely father figure and lover.

It's a film which deals sympathetically with real problems of people who live on the fringes.