Notes on Netflix: X + Y

X+Y – Morgan Matthews, 2014, 12


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Netflix rates it: 5/5

I rate it: 4.5/5

Morgan Matthews’ X+Y follows Nathan (Asa Butterfield), a young British boy who has trouble with people skills due to his Asperger’s syndrome but excels at maths. After his mother recognizes his way-above-average skill, she takes him to meet Mr. Humphreys (Rafe Spall), a maths teacher living with Multiple Sclerosis, who provides all the encouragement Nathan needs to enroll in the International Maths Olympiad. This provides the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his mathematical skill, alongside learning to work with others and getting a feel for the world outside of his home.

The first thing to note about X+Y is the incredible acting of the main cast. Butterfield breathes life into Nathan, really capturing his enthusiasm to learn and thirst for knowledge. Not only this, but the disbelief when he realises he loves something (or someone) more than maths. It’s endearing to see him looking up equations for love, as if he’s trying to make sense of something that rarely makes sense to anyone. Jo Yang (who plays Zhang Mei) complements his character perfectly, with her openness and shining optimism. One of the standout young actors here is Jake Davies who plays Luke, another autistic boy who can’t help constantly sharing his knowledge, for which he is shunned by the other competitors. You can’t help but feel for him as he is mocked, as he is clearly not a bad person, just suffering from a developmental disability. Davies brings a heart-breaking quality to Luke, which is especially impressive for someone his age.


Sally Hawkins, who plays Nathan’s mum Julie, provides a great portrayal of a mother lost for what to do next as she relentlessly tries anything to please her son. At one point near the end, she and Butterfield share a poignant scene where she uses maths to get through an emotional conversation and to help him feel closer to her. Spall also portrays his character well, jokingly self-deprecating to get himself through the day, but showing a deep care for the boy he has taught for so long, and being a positive role model in the wake of Nathan’s father’s death.

The growth of Nathan’s character is really moving to watch; by the end he actually chooses a person he has grown to love over maths, which has never happened before. It sends an inspiring message that anything can be overcome and achieved, which is something everyone needs to hear occasionally!

The soundtrack, a good portion of which was written by Keaton Henson, fits perfectly with the emotional tone and helps to capture the vulnerability of the characters.

Definitely don’t be put off if you’re not a fan of maths, it really is just a starting point for the rest of the film to unfold from. Although the topic is always in the background, the film mostly seems to focus on the way Nathan grows as a person, and develops the way he interacts with people. A subject matter that could have been written poorly is treated with just the right amount of sensitivity, without shying away from the details, which is so rarely done well it’s a pleasure to see. Overall, such a thoughtful film with the ability to get you really rooting for the characters – it’s definitely worth your time!

-Kathi Bundy

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