Adam (2009)

2016 #20
Max Mayer | 95 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Hugh Dancy (of TV’s Hannibal) stars as the eponymous Adam, a New Yorker with Asperger syndrome who’s having to work out how to go it alone after his protective father passed way. Isolated by his condition and his struggle to cope with change, his life faces upheaval when he loses his job, but he also begins to strike up a relationship with his new neighbour, Beth (Rose Byrne). As someone once said*, the course of true love never did run smooth — especially when one of a couple has a social interaction disorder.

Inspired by writer-director Max Mayer hearing a person with Aspergers interviewed on the radio, that starting point has had the end result of Adam at times being at risk of slipping into a “this is Aspergers” documentary. Fortunately it manages to pull that back — such explanatory scenes are surely necessary for neophyte viewers’ understanding of Adam’s condition, which is naturally central to the events that follow. Dancy worked with with Mayer for a month before filming began to develop the character, and spoke with individuals affected by Aspergers to learn about their feelings, sensory issues, and interests. It clearly paid off: I imagine it must be tricky to pull off a character like that without taking it too far, but Dancy is great in the role.

As the other half of the relationship, Rose Byrne holds her own having to almost play the ‘straight man’ to Dancy’s more obvious performance. She’s a considerably better actress than some of her movie choices would have you believe, and roles like this prove that. Bonus points to the writing here for Beth not just accepting everything Adam does — that’s much more realistic than him happening across an endlessly understanding saint of a woman. But boo to the critics who didn’t buy that a privileged “daddy’s girl”-type could ever possibly fall for someone with autism — how judgemental are you?

Among the supporting cast, Peter Gallagher plays the kind of role he always seems to play: as soon as he makes passing mention of being investigated for some kind of financial crime, you know he did it (and probably more), and his daughter will find out and it’ll wipe the scales from her eyes. The only question is whether he’ll be found guilty by the court or weasel his way out of it. Talking of predictability, Mayer opts for the ‘indie’ rather than trad-rom-com ending, but that in itself is kind of predictable. Of course, when both possible outcomes are predictable (and, in a rom-com, there are only two), you can’t win.

So you can’t deny there are clichéd building blocks here, and they do hold the film back from being great, but the sweet relationship and Dancy’s performance overcome them enough to make for a likeable movie.

4 out of 5

* It was Shakespeare. It’s always Shakespeare. ^

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