Review of X+Y

by Simon on April 7, 2015 · 0 comments

For his debut feature film, British documentary filmmaker Morgan Matthews looks to his earlier 2007 doco Beautiful Young Minds, as the source material for what is the most pleasantly powerful films of the year. Edward Baker Close and Asa Butterfield, the young lead from Hugo, play young and slightly older versions of Nathan, a boy with an autism that leaves him socially isolated but naturally gifted at mathematics.  That Nathan loses his father (Martin McCann) at a young age increases his sense of anxiety, to the constant worry of his mother Julie (Sally Hawkins).

xy screenwizeAs is often the case, the right teacher can make the world of difference, and Julie is blessed to find Martin (Rafe Spall), himself a former childhood maths prodigy. Under Martin’s tutelage, Nathan works towards a spot on the British team at the Maths Olympiad at Cambridge.

Matthews’ film is a cross-pollination of genres, a bit Beautiful Mind, a bit Dangerous Minds, and a bit Mommy (another great film opening this week), and while one can successfully guess at the plot turns along the way, the film is not the less for its adherence to genre tropes. In the Beautiful Mind storyline, Asa Butterfield is terrific in a role difficult to play, very internal. I shouldn’t single his performance out though as every actor is thoroughly spot on.

As the inspirational teacher, Rafe Spall gives a complex and physical performance, and is supported by Eddie Marsan as the coach of the British maths team, but every parent will empathise and fall for Sally Hawkins put-upon but loving mother. In a section set and shot in Taiwan, there is a supporting cast of young actors as maths prodigies from various countries and this is another coup for Matthews’ direction – each is a fleshed-out believable figure and not one overacting Hollywood moppet among them.

Music figures in the storyline, acknowledging the close links between music and maths, and contributes to the emotional journey, with a charming musical score from Mearl and songs by Keaton Henson. I had to look both of those artists up for this review, but you also might want to after seeing the film.

Morgan Matthews turned to screenwriter James Graham to adapt his earlier documentary work, and they together build a fascinating set of characters, Graham spending some time with the British maths team for his research.

Matthews’ direction is perfect. Yes, he manipulates you throughout, but nothing is milked, there is great subtlety, and his settings in Taiwan and at Cambridge are deftly shot by Les Miserables and The King’s Speech cinematographer Danny Cohen.

Rating: ★★★★★     CK

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