Adam

Movie Information

The Story: A comedy/drama about the romance of a young man with Asperger's Syndrome and a young woman who moves into his apartment building. The Lowdown: A strong central performance from Hugh Dancy and a largely unforced sense of quirkiness help overshadow the more awkward aspects of this sweet-tempered little movie.
Score:

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Drama
Director: Max Mayer
Starring: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Frankie Faison, Amy Irvng, Mark Linn-Baker
Rated: PG-13

This movie may be a little too cute and a little too pat and a little bit lacking in the style department. It may rely way too much on its bland indie-pop sound track to prop up the drama, but Max Mayer’s Adam is an undeniably pleasant film about an unusual subject that just happens to be topped off by a really good performance from the massively underrated Hugh Dancy in the title role of a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome.

I realize that simply saying that the movie focuses on a young man with a mental condition may be enough to send sage readers scurrying about the room looking for large pieces of furniture to hide behind. That’s understandable enough, since the cinematic woods are littered with (presumably) well-intended movies starring actors who think the road to Oscar’s heart is through this kind of role. (See Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder from last summer.) And there’s no denying that there’s a bit of that here, but Dancy is good enough that it never seems like the posturing that so often comes with the movies’ love affair with mental problems. Dancy offers a subtle performance that works as much in small touches as in the predictable bigger “outburst” moments. It’s perhaps the nature of Asperger’s Syndrome, which at its mildest can seem like little more than a lack of the censorship mechanism in the brain that causes brutal honesty to take the place of social skills.

Adam approaches its story a little differently than most such movies in that it is put forth—and constructed—in terms of a romantic comedy. Adam Ranki is a fellow in his late 20s whose father has just died, leaving him alone in a comfortable and comfortably spacious New York City apartment. It’s a situation that Adam approaches in the most matter-of-fact manner imaginable—by simply marking through the words “Dad’s chores” on the to-do list attached to the refrigerator. Adam seems perfectly settled into his routine with his job as an electronics engineer (designing talking dolls) and his ordered existence. That changes, however, when a pretty girl, Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne, Sunshine), moves into his building and shows an interest in him.

Beth notices that Adam is more than a little different. The very fact that he’s utterly clueless when she drops heavy hints that he might offer to help her carry in her groceries makes that apparent. But he’s also nice, interesting and—let’s face it—drop-dead gorgeous. She is not, however, prepared for his bluntness. Early on he simply asks her if she was sexually aroused when they went somewhere because, he admits, he was. His explanation of having Asperger’s mollifies her sufficiently to cause her to research exactly what the condition is, and a relationship follows. The crux of all this is whether or not such a relationship can work.

The film might have been wiser to leave things at this level, but instead it complicates matters by bringing in a secondary plot about Beth’s father, Marty (Peter Gallagher), and an impending trial over whether or not he doctored some account books in order to make it look like a co-worker’s job performance was better than it was. Writer-director Mayer clearly wanted to create a kind of parallel story about trust and trials with this. Marty’s literal trial is even intercut with Adam’s figurative one after Adam loses his job and goes on an interview for a new one. It works cinematically, but it’s on the wobbly side in terms of drama and feels forced.

While there’s no denying that Adam has its share of problems, its charms and sense of humanity—especially in Dancy’s performance—tend to overcome most of them, at least in broad terms. Occasionally, the film even works in more specific ways, too. Any movie that manages to convey a touching sense of true character growth that’s grounded in nothing more than an offer to help someone carry something is doing something a lot more right than not. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, sexual content and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

7 thoughts on “Adam

  1. Sean Williams

    Not sure whether I want to see this one. I was diagnosed years ago, before Asperger’s was a fad, and find the autistic culture movement rather self-congratulatory. I don’t want to use my condition as an excuse.

  2. Sean Williams

    I guess I’m afraid that Adam will be like Paper Heart: “This is like being trapped by the doting parents of a spectacularly backward child, who then proceed to bludgeon you with attempts to make you proclaim how adorable said child is.”

  3. Ken Hanke

    Asperger’s covers such a broad spectrum that I’m not sure what to tell you. I do know that Adam never felt that way to me, though there are a couple too cute moments.

  4. Having a kid who is in the spectrum this movie really hit it head on. Some of the stuff is what my kid goes through every day, the social training is so important for these kids.

    I think Adam took a compassionate view, didn’t guilt the audience and makes people look at it a little differently. The film doesn’t give Adam an excuse as much as an understanding.

  5. Dave Spicer

    I just got home from seeing “Adam” for the second time. The first was with an autism professional and two other folks who, like me, have Asperger diagnoses. The second was with my wife, and we both felt that the portrayal of AS in the movie got a lot right. Some folks may have qualms with the storyline and so forth but Hugh Dancy did a (dare I say?) stellar job of *being* an Aspie.

    As Ken pointed out, there is quite a spectrum, and one data point – one portrayal – couldn’t possibly convey all of it. But I feel that the understanding of AS will certainly be aided by this movie. I plan on mentioning it when I speak about the experience of being autistic (previous such talks and presentations I’ve given are at http://www.davespicer.org).

  6. T.H.X. Pijonsnodt, Esq.

    Ken, please ignore Sean’s self-flagellation. He consistently fails to grasp two essential points:

    1. Although he is, admittedly, a complete goob, he is not obligated to apologize for this fact to people who think that neurological disorders are “an excuse” for social ineptitude. In the psychiatric field, there is a technical term for these people: [i]morons[/i].

    2. He can never hope to achieve the pinnacle of charisma and virility that I represent. It’s an unrealistic aspiration for a man whose personality is somewhere between that of Will Ferrell in [i]Stranger Than Fiction[/i] and that of Michael Cera in [i]Juno[/i].

  7. Rilee

    As a woman with Asperger’s, i recognize this picture, and yet, of course since Autism is a wide spectrum, and not cut and dried, i don’t recognize this picture. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the chasmic differences between men and women on the spectrum. I was looking at someone who was, as another Aspie, in many ways my polar opposite in experiential background: being a male, and because it was very obvious that “Adam” had been tremendously sheltered by his father, and had never had to try and make sense of the confounding range of normal life. I applaud the story for trying to give the public a look at a life in the higher range of Autism, but i also feel that it was a little too pat, in some ways. I thought the ending was so much more honest than i was expecting it was going to be though, and i’ll give it kudos for that!

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