Well how much did this shrewdly calculated drama add up to? Though the sum of this British movie is to warm hearts with affecting elements of emotional uplift, really it displays as many formulaic plot turns as the equations on the blackboard.
X+Y zeroes in on a math whizkid who only gradually comprehends the basics of establishing relationships with other people.
It’s difficult not to reference the classic Rain Man, but this bittersweet, sentimental tale of interlocking awkwardness sees troubled teenage genius Nathan (Asa Butterfield) go to Taiwan in pursuit of International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) qualification, leaving his bereaved and sad mum (Sally Hawkins) and physically failing mentor (Rafe Spall) to lock affectionate horns back home.
Hawkins, hiding the pain of her son’s isolation behind forced smiles and worried eyes, is great, while embittered teacher Spall is always good value. He was outstanding in the recent Christmas Black Mirror. Oh, and there’s cheerful maths whiz helper Eddie Marsan.
Oddly, the action moves to Taiwan when the drama starts getting interesting and we see Nathan’s sweetly chaste but cloying relationship with Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), a member of the Chinese IMO team.
Butterfield is unafraid to bring out 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 perhaps at the same time hinting at the loneliness of his character’s obsession, and later the first signs of Nathan’s emergence from his emotional isolation.
But the young actor just has binary expressions. Pensive and startled.
At least the movie is not too maths-heavy. The film doesn’t delve too deeply into intellectual specifics, offering only snippets of questions and calculations to keep the plot moving along.
Nice viewing for a Sunday afternoon, but don’t expect a Eureka moment at any stage.