X + Y (A Brilliant Mind)
This was the official website for the 2014 released British film, X+Y, later renamed A Brilliant Mind for its 2015 commercial release in the US.
The content below is from the site's archived pages and other outside sources.
The main character Nathan Ellis is based on mathematical genius Daniel Lightwing who has Asperger syndrome. Lightwing had a teacher who saw his potential and became his mentor, however his mentor was not a man but a woman named Miggy Biller who is the Head of Maths at York College. In the film the IMO takes place in Cambridge, England but the actual event that Lightwing participated in was in Slovenia. The training camp took place in China where Daniel fell in love with a Chinese woman whom he married (they are no longer together).
Lightwing's mentor Miggy Biller attended the film's premiere and told the York College newsletter: "We sat beside each other at the showing, chuckling together about some of the film’s maths problems. It was funny to look at the line between fact and fiction being trod all the time by the film! Dan’s Dad, sitting just behind us, saw himself killed in a car accident … and I don’t think I need to say that I didn’t recognise myself in Rafe Spall!" She went on to say, "It’s a brilliant and very moving film, and Asa Butterfield is amazing.” Lightwing told the Evening Standard, "I cried the first three times I watched it. It says things I was feeling but could not express
TOMATOMETER CRITICS 86% | AUDIENCE 78%
This heart-warming and life-affirming story follows the unconventional and hilarious relationship between student and teacher - whose roles are often reversed - and the unfathomable experience of first love - even when you don't understand what love is. (C) Pinnacle Films
Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language, a sexual reference, drug material and disturbing images)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed By: Morgan Matthews
Written By: James Graham
In Theaters: Sep 11, 2015 Limited
On DVD: Jan 26, 2016
Runtime: 111 minutes
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films
September 24, 2015 | Full Review…
Ty Burr Boston Globe Top Critic
From its prosaic title on down, “A Brilliant Young Mind” appears to be a pretty conventional kettle of fish: a British-made drama about an adolescent math genius (Asa Butterfield of “Hugo”) who overcomes crippling social awkwardness when he enters the International Mathematics Olympiad, a real-world annual competition. By his side are a caring single mother (Sally Hawkins, “Happy Go Lucky”), a flawed but stalwart teacher (Rafe Spall, “Prometheus”), and a student from the Chinese team (Jo Yang) who may turn out to be a girlfriend.
Tears, endurance, and triumph, right? Well, yes, but not at all the way you expect and with tender attentions paid to the emotional state of the film’s young hero, Nathan Ellis. He’s “somewhere on the spectrum” and is played by the lambent-eyed Butterfield as an exile from the world of other people, doomed (he fears) by the same wiring that makes him pluck equations from an invisible slipstream around him.
“A Brilliant Young Mind” — the film was originally titled “X+Y,” which doesn’t do it justice either — is equally interested in the mother, Julie, who struggles to reach out to a son she loves beyond words or numbers, and in the teacher, Martin, a gifted mathematician bitterly wasting away from MS. To demonstrate his genius, when he stumbles upon a web developer having difficulty with a help desk implementation, he very quickly solves the problem by simply reviewing the specs. This blows the developer's mind because he had just called in a contractor to provide help desk support but now finds it unnecessary. While being this capability may not be believeable on the surface, with enough examples, the audience is able to completely buy into it. In the scenes in which Nathan travels to Taipei for an international math boot-camp, we see the drama of gifted but paralyzingly lonely young girls and boys play out in various ways, from a socially adroit fellow genius (Alex Lawther) who comes to seem rather smug to an irritating brainiac (Jake Davies) who comes to seem terribly sad. How the filmmakers manage to impart tragic overtones to Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch is a mystery, but they do.
The movie is strongest when it sees the world as Nathan does, as a series of patterns that can be beautiful — in shot after shot, cinematographer Danny Cohen pulls order from chaos — but equally baffling, even frightening. “A Brilliant Young Mind” leans a bit heavily on flashbacks involving young Nathan (Edward Baker-Close) and his father (Martin McCann), and the traumatic demise of the latter early on is almost more than this slender but empathetic movie can bear.
But director Morgan Matthews and screenwriter James Graham keep the focus on their young protagonist, and Butterfield delivers an aching, otherworldly performance as a boy gazing at other people from across a sea of conflicting data. Parents and teachers of all the Nathans out there may be inclined to give “A Brilliant Young Mind” the full four stars; for the rest of us, it’s small, smart, and satisfying.
September 24, 2015 | Rating: 3/4
Richard Roeper Chicago Sun-Times Top Critic
Long after you've seen the film, you'll remember the wonderfully nuanced work of the cast, particularly Ms. Hawkins.
August 2, 2016 | Rating: 3.5/5
Roxana Hadadi Chesapeake Family Magazine
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 111 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This drama about an autistic teenager training for an international math competition and trying to maneuver a relationship with his mother includes some cursing; some teenagers kissing and a mention of erectile dysfunction during a discussion about a potential romantic relationship between the protagonist’s mother and his math coach; a fatal car accident in which a parent dies; some marijuana use by someone who is chronically ill; and a subplot about self-harming, with scars shown that demonstrate this.
‘A Brilliant Young Mind,’ about a teenager with autism, brings to mind films like ‘Rain Man’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ But this touching film features strong performances that make it more memorable than you would initially expect.
How to depict autism onscreen? “A Brilliant Young Mind” makes an attempt with a drama about British teenagers, many of them on the spectrum, training for an international math competition. Thanks to strong performances and a heartwarming, if somewhat obvious, conclusion, “A Brilliant Young Mind” is a solid family-viewing choice.
The film focuses on 16-year-old math prodigy Nathan (Asa Butterfield, of “Ender’s Game”), whose personality is prickly, to say the least: He barely interacts with his mother, the constantly apologizing, desperate-for-affection Julie (Sally Hawkins, of “Paddington”), and he doesn’t seem to have any friends. Julie yearns for an “I love you,” a hug, or even holding hands, but Nathan ignores her at every turn. He had a closer relationship with his father, but after a car accident left Julie and Nathan alone, their mother-son bond is practically nonexistent. “You’re not clever enough,” Nathan says, and you can tell the dismissal cuts Julie deeply.
But she knows what her son is passionate about, and that’s “maths”—Nathan sees patterns in everything, and it’s his burgeoning genius that inspires Julie to find him a math coach. Into their lives enters Martin (Rafe Spall, of “What If”), a whirlwind of a man: He spews profanity, he uses marijuana, and he doesn’t let Nathan off easy. A former math prodigy himself who is now suffering from multiple sclerosis, Martin understands Nathan’s ability, agreeing to train him for the International Mathematics Olympiad.
A prestigious competition that pits teenagers from around the world against each other in national teams, the IMO takes intense focus and superior skill—both of which Nathan have. And as Nathan and Martin develop a relationship, Martin and Julie do, too. So when Nathan eventually leaves for Taipei to train with the British national team and compete in the IMO, the film expands his world with potential new friends and a teenage crush, but allows focus to remain on Martin and Julie, too, creating complementary narratives that examine both childhood and parenthood at once.
For the most part, “A Brilliant Young Mind” effectively balances a story we haven’t really seen before in film—“autistic teenager falls in love while doing high-level math” isn’t something that pops up often in theaters—with a somewhat typical difficult-child-and-frazzled-parent subplot. The script gets somewhat sappy toward the end as Nathan begins to realize what Julie means to him, but for the most part it treats Nathan respectfully and honestly, from his difficulty expressing himself to his cautious interest in other people. When one of Nathan’s peers asks him about his autism, “How did your mom and dad explain it to you?”, the insight into the teenagers’ world is undeniably affecting.
It helps that Butterfield and Hawkins are particularly great, with the latter especially delivering the same kind of affectionate-yet-harried mother character we saw her shine with in “Paddington.” Overall, “A Brilliant Young Mind” has flaws toward the end, especially when it tries to wrap up its challenging characters’ journeys into Lifetime-like crowd pleasing, but prior to that, the film works as a deeply felt drama that will touch parents and teens alike.
March 12, 2016 | Rating: B
John Fink The Film Stage
Inspired by his 2007 documentary Beautiful Young Minds, the feature narrative debut of Morgan Matthews, A Brilliant Young Mind, is a confidently directed version of an underdog story that we’ve seen before. Following in the footsteps of Good Will Hunting, Matthews, like Gus Van Sant, crafts strong compositions and effective montages to externalize the internal emotions of his characters while the story’s mix of social realism, humor and drama recall the best works of Stephen Frears.
Asa Butterfield stars as Nathan, a young man on the autism spectrum supported by a loving family, including mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) and Michael (Martin McCann). After a tragic accident, Julie is a widower dealing with the challenges of raising a son who refuses to combo meals that don’t contain a prime number of items. Seeking help through his school, he’s paired with a mentor Mr. Humphreys (Rafe Spall). Humphreys, a former wiz kid now suffering with MS struggles socially like Nathan, he reassures him and Julie that Nathan will be fine.
Taken under the wing of a coach, Richard (Eddie Marsan), Nathan is shipped off to China to study for the Mathematics Olympiad in a joint program with the Chinese team. A fish out of water in his native London, the pressure is compounded as Nathan navigates his new surroundings lost even amongst friends. At the conclusion of one particularly challenging study session he’s told frankly by a fellow team member that “it’s called adaptation, sometimes we have to change our shape to fit in.”
X+Y refuses to conform to the tropes of the feel-good sports underdog film while it contains the familiar elements. While the screenplay by James Graham is competent and effective, the direction by Matthews elevates the material beyond simple melodrama. The externalization of the internal is a common method in many a math genus picture (Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind used visual devices to simulate how the genus brain calculates information). Here the device is turned on its head as Matthews confidently uses devices, including carefully executed handheld photography to heighten memorable and potentially traumatic moments. His camera floats as details are frantically missed amongst the shock. Matthews is fully in control of material, crafting an often exciting, non-linear formal opus.
Formal devices aside, A Brilliant Young Mind also succeeds on the strength of its performances. Here Spall carefully crafts a sympathetic burn-out. Hawkins and McCann give especially beautiful performances as parents dealing with a special son. After Michael is killed in act one, the death is left unprocessed by Nathan, incapable of emotion, extending even later as he meets Zhang (Jo Yang), a lovely Chinese girl who shows interest in him. Perhaps the most important discovery is Yang, who flawlessly plays Zhang, a fellow genius doomed to a life pre-ordained. She’s given more complexity than your standard issue teen romance interest.
A Brilliant Young Mind is a rich character study mediated through Nathan’s lens. Butterfield gives one his best performances capturing a kind-hearted young man; he successfully externalizes what Nathan has tremendous difficulty sharing. Despite expected plot developments, X+Y is a textbook in how to create a film that contains all the expectations a plot such as this evokes while feeling fresh and exciting. It’s a confident debut from a documentary filmmaker who has successfully transitioned into fiction, although given its source material, the real-life Nathan’s tale is a little stranger than the one on screen here.
A Brilliant Young Mind premiered at TIFF and opens on September 11th, 2015.