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A socially awkward teenage math prodigy finds new confidence and new friendships when he lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.

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X+Y movie full length review - Too many story threads to treat with any depth

(spoilers) In an early scene a young boy, Nathan Ellis, and his parents are in a doctor's office where the news is delivered that Nathan is on the autism spectrum, combined with synesthesia in response to changes in light and pattern.

It is explained that Nathan will have emotional challenges that will stay with him for the rest of his life. With that setup I was thinking that this movie would be a serious examination of how Nathan would deal with his challenges, but what unfolds is more scripted for audience appeal than thoughtful drama. Outside the first scene with the doctor there is no further intervention by a professional and Nathan and his parents are left to struggle on their own.

As a young boy Nathan is in a car crash (graphically filmed) where his father is killed and he survives. That would have a serious effect on any young boy, but Nathan's father seemed to be the only person who elicited some positive emotional response from Nathan. The main result of the accident is that Nathan is left with his mother Julia who desperately wants him to be behave in ways that she wants--behavior that he is not capable of. Julia makes little attempt to understand who Nathan is and how he sees the world.

A defining characteristic of autism is difficulty with social interactions. This is portrayed early on when Julia tries to force Nathan to hold her hand and he is so freaked out that he runs away. It irritated me that Julia would understand her son so poorly that she would try to force him to hold her hand--the data was in by that time as to how he would react. The most serious misrepresentation offered here is that normal life experiences can result in an essential cure of autism. I was left with the impression that autism is something that can be outgrown, contrary to the doctor's diagnosis in the early scene. The script jumps through a lot of hoops so that the story could climax with a totally unbelievable tear-filled hug between Nathan and his mother. Nathan had shown little feeling for his mother up to that time, except disdain, and I was expected to believe that the disconnect with her could be reversed in an instant?

Moving on from the lack of seriousness in addressing Nathan's autism in any detail, it turns out that Nathan is a high achieving autistic person, being a gifted mathematician. He is chosen to represent the UK on a team of high schoolers at the International Mathematics Olympiad in Taiwan. He travels there to compete and we are required to watch scripted scenes that would never happen the way they are portrayed. For one thing, it is a stretch to have Nathan go to a big city, supervised only by an obnoxious team captain, when he had shown little ability to function independently. Being thrown into close contact with so many kids his own age in a foreign environment would have been a total anxiety ridden trauma, and not an experience edging Nathan toward normalcy. In one scene Nathan wanders the streets of Taiwan alone where he is assaulted and overwhelmed by the noise and lights. I guess his confused reaction to the lights is meant to reflect his supposed synesthesia, but that is not how synesthesia manifests. The group of mathematicians at the Olympiad conform to the stereotype of such people as being weird and spouting such nonsense as reciting the digits of pi and the Fibonacci sequence--such behavior at that level would be viewed as hopelessly juvenile. Nathan meets a girl at the Olympiad who triggers an empathetic response from him that is out of the realm of what one would expect from him. He is thus then transformed to a not atypical shy, awkward teenager.

As if there were not enough plot threads that are not followed up, Nathan's tutor Martin is introduced. Martin is an alcoholic suffering from MS; one scene has him in an MS group meeting where he unloads on what a bleak future he is facing. Martin and Nathan's mother develop a relationship to play on your sympathies. The screenwriter must have been striving for emotional overload in introducing Martin and his relationship with Julia. By the end I felt that the demand on my reserves of sympathy had been exceeded.

Asa Butterfield, as Nathan, is good, but I am never sure how much talent is required to play a person with a limited emotional range. I liked Rafe Spall as Martin.

I find no humor in seeing people shove French fries up their noses, not in "A Fish Called Wanda," and not here. I could excuse this if it had been kids doing this, but it was the adults.

The modest score serves mainly as a guide to what sort of emotional response is desired.

There is enough material here for a half dozen stories if depth were a criterion, which it apparently was not.

If you want an inside look from a literate high performing autistic person, read any of Temple Grandin's excellent books.