I saw a film at the weekend that was the single most positive portrayal of men that I can remember seeing on the big screen. In it there are no fewer than four – count them, four – key male characters who are unfailingly decent and inspiring.
As such, I felt I should bloody well shout about it and tell as many people as possible to go and see it too. So that’s what I’m doing.
The film is X + Y, a perfectly-formed little bitter-sweet British comedy about a teenage boy who is both autistic and brilliant at maths. As a young boy Nathan’s dad, who was the only person who could communicate with him, is killed in a car crash. Nathan is brought up by his lovely but devastated single mum, who not only carries deep grief for the loss of her husband, but also struggles to connect with her autistic son.
Not an oaf or a cad in sight
The central thread of the film follows Nathan’s gradual emergence from his shell, as he’s given the opportunity to compete in the International Maths Olympiad. Along the way, the film shows how both he and his mum grow personally and so does the relationship between them.
But the element of the film that’s so refreshing is that all of the core male characters are shown to be mature, loving and well-rounded men. There isn’t a bumbling oaf, or sneering cad in sight. And it’s still very funny.
From the loving dad, who we get to know through flash backs, to the sensitive therapist who first diagnoses Nathan’s autism, right through to the headmaster who’s first to recommend he takes special tuition in maths, and the maths teacher who goes on to become Nathan’s mentor, not to mention Nathan himself, there isn’t a dolt or a git in sight. Even the slightly officious maths coach, who leads the team in the International Maths Olympiad, is still basically a lovely bloke.
Hot Fuzz Vs Knocked Up
The closest the film comes to having a villain, is in the cruel rivalry between two of Nathan’s male maths team members, but even these two young men are presented as complex and ultimately decent, even if they are flawed.
The male characters in X + Y aren’t sliced-white perfect, it’s just the writers have chosen to sidestep the tired old man-child clichés that so often appear in contemporary film comedies. (To be fair, British film comedies have a better track record at creating decent male characters than the ones cranked out by Hollywood – compare Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, to Dumb and Dumber and Knocked Up, for example.)
But the depth of the characters in X + Y gave me the feeling that this time the writers had actually gone out to say something decent about men.
Over the last year, there’s been a real shift in the way dads are portrayed in adverts -- both on TV and in the cinema, we’re starting to see advertisers targeting men by actually showing how much they care for their families. On “Super Bowl Sunday” in January, known as America’s highest-revenue advertising slot, ad firms seemed to compete with each other to run the most dad-friendly ads.
Wouldn’t it be great if X + Y were to herald a shift in the way men are portrayed in the main attraction as well?
By Dan Bell
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