"combines equations and emotions to produce a near perfect formula"

When such words are mentioned as algebra, trigonometry and Pythagoras, it is granted that more people will shy away in the corner than those gagging at the chance to solve them.

For Nathan Ellis, maths is his life. He even likes it more than ice-cream! Having been diagnosed within the large spectrum of autism from an early age, Nathan has always been a social recluse.  As life documentary filmmaker Morgan Matthews takes us through this boy’s childhood after the loss of his father, Nathan’s phenomenal mind takes him to the highest point in mathematical society – The Olympiad.

Dyslexia, autism and Asperger’s – syndromes that one could argue are quite common in today’s society – are illnesses people still disregard due to a lack of understanding. They replace such words with, ‘special’ and ‘unique’, instantly making the person in question more uncomfortable. Ender’s Game’s Asa Butterfield plays Nathan and is perfectly awkward in every way and appears to fine tune all the niggles of autism with absolute ease.

Matthews expertly illustrates Nathan’s gradual ability to overcome certain life obstacles; and it’s those around him who make this possible. Rafe Spall as the MS-suffering maths teacher, Humphreys, offers an ideal balance of sarcastic humour alongside sensitivity. In an otherwise tense and deeply touching film, such light-heartedness is very much needed for the audience as well as Nathan’s oh so understanding mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins).  

X + Y would have been just as enthralling if it focused entirely on Nathan’s disorder and left certain conventional sub-plots at the door. Albeit, considering Matthews previously delved so heavily into this subject with his documentary Young Beautiful Minds, playing around with narrative techniques seems only natural. We long for scenes between Nathan and his mother simply because Hawkins delivers one of her best performances to date. It is heartbreaking to see her try everything to connect with her son in a way a mother should be able to. Everyone on screen has their own compelling story hidden beneath the surface, and when the filmmakers decided to throw a coming-of-age romantic slant on the tale, it unintentionally subtracts from the raw emotion we were initially presented with.

The actions these children take in order to deal with their own ‘uniqueness’ and pressure of the competition are both shocking and refreshing.  This film doesn’t shy away from anything. Nothing is sugar coated and what we get is a very honest interpretation of what life would be like in this somewhat heartbreaking situation.

This represents something extraordinary and the film’s resolution heavily highlights a teenage boy who doesn’t have the capacity to understand his emotions. With this powerhouse of a cast, X + Y offers an awe-inspiring representation of such a theme without being completely glossed over by Hollywood clichés. This isn’t just for maths fanatics; this is a story of love, triumph and autism, resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable and emotional picture.