Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A strong film with an impressive central performance by up and coming star Asa Butterfield."

Meet Nathan. Everybody is different and his difference is that he has magic powers. He can't easily relate to other people but he likes patterns. His mother worries. She imagines him facing a difficult future. When tragedy strikes the family, it's hard to see how they will cope, but the intervention of a wayward teacher with problems of his own helps Nathan use his powers to the full.

There are a lot of films out there about autistic kids but few taking a realistic look at the lives of autistic adults, so although Edward Baker-Close is ridiculously cute as the young Nathan, it's good to see him grow up. What develops is a coming of age film that explores the different journeys both he and his mother have to make as he moves into adulthood. It centres on his ability with maths, but this isn't Rain Man savant territory. Nathan has to work hard and experiences the same self-doubt as any other talented teenager, especially when he joins a study group full of other top young mathematicians. With the group come new social opportunities, along with the chance to travel to China. This is a lot to take on for a boy who depends on having a familiar routine, but the way Nathan rises to the challenge makes this very much an individual story, not one that relies on archetypes.

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A heartwarming tale that packs in its share of clich├ęs, this is nevertheless a strong film with an impressive central performance by up and coming star Asa Butterfield (best known for Ender's Game). The ever-reliable Sally Hawkins provides excellent support as the mother facing all the usual difficulties in letting her son go, along with the added anxiety his difference causes her. A tentative romance opens Nathan's eyes to new aspects of the world but also complicates his life as he gains a fresh perspective on the loss faced in childhood. Meanwhile, he gets a look at how the other half live as another autistic boy who can't match his skill at blending in faces ridicule. They say you'll be accepted, the boy notes, but what they don't tell you is that it will only happen if you're talented. Maths is a passport to social integration, but how many autistic people really care about it and how many simply feel they have no choice but to perform?

As it's aimed at a young audience, X + Y doesn't explore these issues in much depth, but it's a strong character piece. Young people from many different backgrounds will find that Nathan is someone they can relate to, and in this way common perceptions of a gulf between aspie and neurotypical people are challenged. The film stumbles a little more when it comes to the character of the teacher, whose multiple sclerosis gets something not so far from disease of the week treatment, but a solid performance by Rafe Spall minimises the damage. Other characters have problems of their own, letting Nathan emerge as just one more complicated human being rather than a unique and beautiful snowflake; both he and the film are much more interesting as a result.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2015
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An autistic teenage prodigy travels from the English suburbs for a maths competition in Taipei, challenging his safely defined outlook.
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