How are your memories of school maths lessons? Painful? The Sloth shudders at the recollection of Mr Hayes, who operated a shock and awe teaching style, bawling our 12 year old self out in front of the entire class for taking more than a scant 2 seconds to answer a question. We’ve hated anything vaguely numerical ever since.
But not everyone is as maths averse, as X + Y explores. Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is a young autistic boy. After his father Michael (Martin McCann) dies unexpectedly, mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) struggles to raise him alone, doing her best to deal with his difficult condition. Along with the social awkwardness of autism often come gifts, which Nathan demonstrates with a growing affinity for maths. Spotting Nathan’s talent, his school arranges extra tuition from shambolic, MS suffering maths teacher Humphreys (Rafe Spall), whose irreverent attitude and medical difficulties help forge a tentative bond.
Nathan’s prodigious skills eventually land him a place on the UK’s junior maths Olympiad team and en route to a maths training camp in Taiwan, along with the geekiest teammates this side of a Warhammer convention, bless. Thrown in at the deep end, he is forced to either start managing his issues or meet the same fate as teammate and fellow autistic Luke (Jake Davies), whose inability to curb his argumentative nature leads to ostracism from his peers.
X + Y is a small gem of a film. For such an emotional subject it has humour in abundance, supplied by Rafe Spall’s foul mouthed tutor and Eddie Marsan’s dogmatic Olympiad team coach, but is also deeply moving without ever dipping into sentiment or mawkishness. Scenes of Nathan taking tentative steps towards a relationship with Chinese team member Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) and understanding the emotions lurking deep inside him are genuinely touching. Conversely, a virtuoso performance by Jake Davies as tortured fellow autistic Luke are acutely painful to watch. Beautifully scripted, beautifully acted. Don’t miss it.
Oh and there is maths too, if you are interested, but The Sloth stuck our fingers in our ears for that bit.
UK release 13 March