Tuesday 17 March 2015

Film: 'X + Y'

This ought to have been so much better! However, I dare say that those who don't share my deep aversion to excessive background music - and this is positively swimming in it - could well feel that this is a fine film. It's one of the very worst examples of that particular trait I've seen in a long time. Why, oh why, do they do it? It's just so unnecessary. Instead of nudging our emotions in the direction the makers feel it ought to take, let the story speak for itself, for crying out loud! Are we deemed to be so stupid that we can't think for ourselves without 'pointers', or are the makers afraid that we are going to be bored?

The principal redeeming factor is the three adults in the cast, of which more anon.

Based on a true story (yawn!) its central character, played by Asa Butterfield (the titular lead in Scorsese's excellent 'Hugo' of 2011), is the teenage mathematical prodigy son of a widowed mother. Having been present as a child when his father is violently killed, he's become emotionally withdrawn to all, has inept social skills - but especially cold, unresponsive and, frankly, rude to his suffering, caring and loving mother. Sally Hawkins is astonishing as the latter. We see her trying to put on a cheerful face while trying to mask the worrying turmoil she holds underneath. Her sympathetic performance really tugged my heartstrings every time she appeared.
The story takes the son from being tutored as a child in advanced maths by the bear-like and muscular dystrophic Rafe Spall (son of Timothy S.), jumping some years to his attempting to compete for a place in an International Mathematics Olympiad at Cambridge University. He's taken with co-competitors to train in Taipei with the Chinese team (cue music with an Oriental 'tinge') where his withdrawn mien doesn't make him any more popular. His team's mentor and guide for this Far-East visit is the irrepressible Eddie Marsan, all energy and efficiency - and yet another 'bear'!

Apart from the music (there are even snatches of three songs, would you believe it!) I thought the arc of events was very much what we've seen a number of times before and, notwithstanding that it's based on true events, it's all capped by a feelgood ending which struck me as more convenient than convincing.
There were also, in my view, rather too many flashbacks to the character as a child responding to the affection of his shortly-to-die father.

We've seen Sally Hawkins recently in Woody Allen's terrific 'Blue Jasmine' as well as in Mike Leigh's superb 'Happy-Go-Lucky' (where her weird and disturbingly serious driving instructor was the same Eddie Marsan as here, though in this film the two only have one brief scene together).

Director Morgan Matthews, whose first feature as director this appears to be, has assembled a flawless cast and it's the three adult actors who hold the film together, being a total pleasure to watch. More's the pity, then, that the film itself was so marred in certain respects - though, of course, that may be just me..........................6.


  1. Ray,
    Excessive and unnecessary background music also bothers me in a movie. I also hate the camera that is excessively busy, purportedly being "realistic" but I only find it annoying and distracting to the movie I'm watching. I remember the great Bette Davis complaining about the great music director Max Steiner's music accompanying her up the stairs to her bedroom for her deathbed scene in "Dark Victory." She said "Either I'm going up those stairs alone or Max's music is going up but were NOT going together." Of course in the end they both WENT up those stairs together.

    1. Ron, I can watch oldie films with lots of background music much easier than I can watch such contemporary films. That feature was very much a characteristic of times past but now it just looks anachronistic when applied to present-day features.
      I'm not sure I've ever seen 'Dark victory' (my experience of pre-1960 films is quite sparse, shamefully), but were I ever to watch it I'm sure to watch out for the scene you describe.

      I once saw Ms Davis live in Oxford on a national Q & A tour (in around 1976? I'm sure she did the same tour in America about that time). The second half of the evening was devoted to her answering random questions from the audience, but before that the entire first hour or so was the showing of excerpts from her most famous films - and I do believe i hadn't seen a single one of them!

  2. Oh my Ray, you're going to have to turn in your gay card. No self-respecting gay can NOT see these classic Bette Davis films:
    The Letter, The Little Foxes, Jezebel, Now Voyager, Mrs. Skeffington, All About Eve and of course the classic:
    "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"
    Beg, borrow or steal Ray, but you MUST see these Bette Davis films before you depart for the great theater up in the sky.

    1. I'm catching up, Ron, but it's a very slow process. I've actually seen 'Now Voyager' TWICE (would you believe it!) as well as 'All About Eve' (just the once) - as to the others, well, sometime maybe - though I've never even heard of 'Mrs Skeffington'. So way to go yet - while the sands are running out ever faster.