You’re likely thinking something like this: How many more movies about the misadventures of disabled boy geniuses must I endure? From Rain Man to The Imitation Game, the industry seems obsessed with the doomed and the gifted. Did Einstein pick his nose? Was Bertrand Russell naughty with the nanny? Let’s make a movie.
But this is the one that finally gets the pathos and excitement levels set just right. Scripted with intelligence and flirting cleverly with the clichés, this film chronicles the upbringing of an emotionally constipated math genius kid (he’s Spock as English boy), who is raised by a single mother (Sally Hawkins) after the death of an unconditionally loving father. Nathan (played with real skill by Asa Butterfield, who was Ender in Ender’s Game and Hugo in Hugo) is a real pain in the collective ass, too. He loves patterns, and he finds them while shuffling downtown and gazing at architecture or creates them while fiddling with his Chinese takeout. But he’s not so great with people who want to shake his hand. And if the egg rolls don’t add up to a prime number, he freaks. Nathan’s mom has the usual problems of single parenting, compounded by the fact that she is “two standard deviations” beneath her brainiac boy. Then we meet Martin (Rafe Spall), a former prodigy with his own crosses to bear. Nathan also leans about the International Mathematics Olympiad, and his obsessions become epic.
Maybe it still doesn’t sound promising, this film with the terrible title, but it was made with a tender attention to motivation and behaviors. It’s psychologically rich like a novel and beautiful, too. Director Morgan Matthews frames Nathan’s open and large face and eyes in carefully composed shots full of greens and blues and browns. We feel close to nature even when the topic is the troubling relationship of exceptional humanity trying to hang out with the rest of us normally tortured people.