Director: Morgan Matthews
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall
Watch X + Y online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
How do you define love mathematically? It’s a challenge that’s almost as impossible as discovering the formula for a brilliant film. X+Y, an absolutely charming new British movie, manages to do both.
Start with a young teenage boy on the autism spectrum (Nathan), take away his dad so only he and his mum (Julie) remain, then plus the International Mathematical Olympiad, a globe-trotting competition Nathan would be very good at, and an equally anti-social teacher (Martin), who has a habit of getting high.
Factor in a rude rival (Jakes Davies’ tragic Luke), a pretty overseas student (Zhang Mei) and a potential teacher-parent romance and the result reads like a pile of coming-of-age cliches.
Then, subtract any cheesy awkwardness and divide the potential mawkishness between a cast of fantastic actors: Asa Butterfield is a huge positive as the lonely genius; Rafe Spall and Eddie Marsan double the total laughs with their abrasive and likeable presence. Combine this with Sally Hawkins as Nathan’s earnest, shut-out mother, who counts her son’s prawn balls at the local Chinese takeaway with arithmetic precision.
Raise all that by Morgan Matthews’ gentle direction and square it with the script’s calculatedly unconventional sports movie structure. Triple the emotional impact with a heart-breaking monologue from Spall, minus any easy happy ending for him and Julie, and times it by a final speech from Hawkins, who lands upon the correct solution to defining affection as a variable. The sum effect is exponentially adorable; a moving, sincere study of maternal love that feels like it has a real value. Add this film to your life and it will multiply your happiness. Deduct it and you will be infinitely missing out on a quantifiable gem.