Friday, August 21, 2009

Review: "Adam"

The main challenge of any cinematic romance is that it has to be a two-way street. The audience has to accept not only that the couple is in love, but believe that each character is capable and willing of falling for the other.

The problem with "Adam" is that we never buy them as a plausible romantic pairing. It's very easy to see why the title character, played by Hugh Dancy, would fall for Beth (Rose Byrne), the sweet, pretty girl who moves into the floor below him. What we have trouble understanding is what she sees in him.

Adam suffers from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism that makes social interaction very difficult, mostly due to a lack of empathy for others. Adam rarely looks people in the eye, has difficulty recognizing humor, and cannot distinguish between honesty and rudeness (for instance, when asked if he wants to see baby videos, he emphatically responds, "No, thank you").
Sounds like quite a catch, doesn't he?

At one point Beth, who is a teacher and aspiring children's book writer, asks the school psychologist about Adam's condition. After hearing the list of characteristics, she hesitantly follows up: "So, not exactly prime relationship material, right?"

In another scene, Beth's father (Peter Gallagher) gives that familiar speech that many fathers, real and reel, have given to their daughters about a certain boy not being right for them. It's meant to be a pivotal moment, where young love is challenged by the cold rationality of the old. We're supposed to cheer when Beth tells her dad off. But in this case, we're left with the nagging suspicion that dad is right.

"Adam" is a well-intentioned movie. Writer/director Max Mayer approaches his characters with sensitivity, and I didn't sense any motive to exploit Asperger's or those who have it. At one point Beth gives Adam some chocolates, and he quips, "I'm not Forrest Gump, you know!"

Still, we are asked to accept that Beth would fall in love with a guy who's not just socially awkward, but with tangible and deep-seated psychological problems. That's a big leap, and I don't think Mayer and his cast quite clear it.

Dancy gives a charming, technically sound performance, and we do end up with a fondness for Adam. I can't say the same for "Adam."

2 stars

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