September 24, 2009

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Adam (PG-13)
A woman swimming in emotion falls for a man who has trouble relating to people in Adam, a dramedy that uses Asperger’s Syndrome as its central theme.

Beth (Rose Byrne) is a children’s book writer who is supporting herself by teaching elementary school kids — it doesn’t get more gushy and feelings-y than that. Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a smart engineer who can’t seem to bring himself to look most people in the eyes. So when his father dies at the beginning of the movie, we suspect that he’s in deep mourning but it isn’t an emotion he can easily show. When he meets Beth, who has just moved into his building, he isn’t able to easily pick up on what she’s thinking either — which is why after only a few meetings he asks her if she’s sexually excited. It’s not the creepy come-on she thinks it is at first — he genuinely wants to know. It’s Asperger’s, he tells her, rattling off a list of famous smarties who may have also been thusly wired.

Adam has a hard time relating to people, but he knows encyclopedias worth of information about space. He doesn’t understand the lack of venom behind a small lie but he constructs beautiful images of the galaxy along his walls. Thus is the attraction and the difficulty of Adam for Beth. He is frustrating but sincere, he doesn’t pour on the “I love you”s but (unlike past boyfriends) he never says anything he doesn’t mean, either. Unlike past boyfriends and Beth’s father (Peter Gallagher), who nonchalantly tells her he has some legal trouble getting in the way of a forthcoming vacation when in fact he is at the edge of a conviction for fraud.
Remember The Other Sister, with Juliette Lewis? This movie is not like that movie. I mention this because when Hollywood gives us a movie about someone who is not completely average, mental-development-wise, it tends to verve wildly into ick.

Adam does not do this, which is perhaps the most commendable thing about the movie. It gives us a man who is smart at some things and not at others; who has been cared for, perhaps overly so, by his father and his father’s friend his whole life. Now on his own, he is a skilled engineer but lacks the interviewing skills to put that expertise to work. He is in many ways a good balance, boyfriend-wise, for Beth, but he isn’t completely equipped with the emotional skills to handle a relationship’s bumps in the road (then again, who among us can always react perfectly to our partners?). He is, in short, something like a real person (Beth is arguably given fewer layers than Adam) and it’s refreshing to see a person instead of a caricature.

I did leave feeling like I wanted more — though I’m not sure more of what. Like a good but not very good short story, this film left me feeling like I was just getting really interested in these characters, ready to see more sides of their personalities and watch them follow some kind of arc, when the movie stopped. A final scene seemed to want to give me that but it felt very tacked on.

Adam is a quiet film and leaves you with a welcome contemplative feeling even if it also leaves you wanting a bit more. B-

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, sexual content and language. Written and directed by Max Mayer, Adam is an hour and 37 minutes long and distributed in limited release by Fox Searchlight Pictures. It is playing at Red River Theatres through Thursday and opens Friday at Wilton Town Hall Theatre.