Screenwriters: Max Mayer
Starring: Hugh Dancy (interview), Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Frankie Faison
Running time: 98 mins
Max Mayer's Adam is a film that's held back by a big contradiction. It has two delicately-sculpted, unique lead characters, the type rarely seen in slushy romantic fare, but they're trapped in a formulaic 'Dramedy 101' piece. Stars Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne put in excellent turns as odd couple Adam and Beth - there's possibly a great movie somewhere for these two characters, but Adam only provides them with a good one.
After the death of his father, toymaker Adam (Dancy) is left to fend for himself. Living off macaroni and cheese in an empty home, he experiences a romance to remember when school teacher and aspiring children's author Beth (Byrne) moves in next door. After a few awkward early encounters, these two misfits discover a mutual attraction. Beth is charmed by Adam's sweet nature, and he eventually reveals to her that he suffers from Asperger's, a form of autism that leaves him unable to perceive what others are thinking and take ironic or sarcastic comments at face value. The friendship blossoms into romance, but not without objections from Beth's father Marty (Peter Gallagher).
It's refreshing to see a disability such as Asperger's getting treated in a less than sugarcoated manner. Where films of Forrest Gump's ilk have whiter-than-white heroic characters, Adam isn't afraid to show unpleasant sides to its protagonist. Beyond the day-to-day difficulties Beth finds with Adam, Mayer paints him as short-tempered and selfish. The subject matter never becomes too heavy, though, instead utilising humour to soften the pitfalls of Asperger's. When Beth mentions that she can't see through her windows because of soot, Adam rappels down the building in an astronaut suit to clean them. Earlier, he asks Beth if she was "excited... sexually" after a date. The setting is New York, perhaps the busiest city in the world, but Adam shows the silent, less bustling places on the outskirts of Manhattan. This perfectly amplifies the isolation felt by the eponymous character and, to a lesser extent, Beth.
The film gets sidetracked somewhat by a sub-plot about Marty's corporate fiddling. It gives Beth a dilemma, yet despite this dramatic tension Adam is more tuned-in as a two-hander - the meticulous preparations for a job interview between Adam and Beth are particularly touching, as is an extended scene recalling Jaws where they sit in silence mimicking each other's body language. The support from Gallagher, Amy Irving (as Beth's mother) and Frankie Faison (Adam's sole friend Harlan) is excellent (Gallagher is perfect as a charismatic sleaze), yet they never feel as tangible as Adam and Beth, acting more as story facilitators than rounded characters.
Thankfully an overly-sentimental ending is avoided, with things wrapping up on a moment of optimism for Adam and Beth - he has escaped from loneliness and she completes an illustrated book inspired by an encounter with raccoons (the most significant use of the animal on screen since Ace Ventura 2) in Central Park. Adam is a quiet, contemplative film with a quirky heart and soul - it's just a shame that it's trapped in such a familiar framework. In a movie about a man unable to read people, it's ironic that it's so easy to spot the turns in this story. When all's said and done, Adam motors purposefully down the runway but never quite manages to take off.
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