Adam (2009)

Adam is a film about a man who has the most commonly self-diagnosed disorder on the internet: Asperger’s syndrome. No, I’m not going to back that up with stats, mostly because I don’t have any, but that’s what it seems like. Anyway, the character of the title, played by Hugh Dancy, has this disorder, and as you can expect, it’s not a whole lot of fun. At least, it doesn’t seem like a lot of fun, even if he smiles a lot.

The plot kicks into gear when a woman named Beth (Rose Byrne) moves into the same apartment building as Adam. His father had just died, and his life had gotten stale, so the new tenant spices things up a bunch. They first meet in the laundry room, exchanging an awkward conversation. Next, they find themselves converging on the front steps of the building, he sitting down playing on his laptop, her dragging a heavy cart of groceries. Even after mentioning that the groceries are heavy, implying that she would like some aid in carrying them, Adam continues sitting down, ignorant that she hoped for help. The film tells me that this is one of the defining features of Asperger’s.

Of course, Beth doesn’t know that there’s anything wrong with him. Not yet. She thinks he’s handsome, charming, even if he is kind of awkward at conversing. We actually aren’t told that he as Asperger’s yet, either, although I’m telling you because it makes his actions make a lot more sense. Eventually, we get an expository monologue about what it impacts and why it’s a problem (a lack of understanding others and being able to empathize with them are the main problems), and at this point, we’re sure that the characters are going to, at some point, get together. Beth finds Adam too darn fascinating.

She begins reading up on Asperger’s. She’s unsure if she should enter into a relationship with Adam because of his mental issue. He needs her, though, as she’s only done good for his life. This is a sweet story that’s told well, even if it does take a long time to really get going, and the only sources of conflict come from out of the blue and don’t really fit together with the rest of Adam.

There are two major subplots. The first involves Beth’s father, Marty (Peter Gallagher), who is currently being indicted because he may or may not have broken the law. He and Beth spend some time talking on the phone, although until the boyfriend-meets-parents night happens, there’s little actual worry about it. Second, we have Adam’s friend Harlan (Frankie Faison), who gives Adam pretty much all of the advice that he needs, serving as the father-figure of the story (remember, Adam’s father recently died).

If there’s one thing I liked about Adam more than anything else, it was how it ended. I don’t want to give away anything about the ending — I’m not going to tell you the tone or even hint at what happens — but it perfectly capped off the film’s story. There’s nothing that could have improved it in my eyes, and I’ll admit that it touched me. That should not give you any inclination about how it ends, but hopefully will get you to both watch and sit through all of Adam. It’s worth it.

Sprinkled throughout Adam are a bunch of quirky comedy moments that almost make you think that the film is trying to be a romantic comedy. But then you’ll get a few dramatic moments in a row and realize that the humor was added to keep the mood light. The humor generally works, sometimes just because of how absurd it is, and I laughed quite a lot over the course of this film.

The performances are particularly strong here, especially Hugh Dancy in the lead role. Had he played it over-the-top or otherwise quirky, it’s possible that we wouldn’t be able to take him seriously. But he’s subdued, rarely showing emotion, and yet we like him. He’s a charming fellow even if he doesn’t know that other people know it, or even know that he is in the first place. Rose Byrne fits nicely in her role as the neighbor and love interest, although Dancy steals the show in almost every scene he’s in, save for the one time he blows up and acts completely out of character. That one scene didn’t work, and it was supposed to be a pivotal moment.

Of course, Adam also suffers from its fair share of problems. Like in many movies about disabled individuals, Adam is somehow magical in his ability to remember everything about the world around him, while also not being significantly impaired by his Asperger’s. The film also feels quite long in the middle, going through the same motions a couple of times too many. It needed some tighter editing. The performances and scripting largely make up for these flaws, but they are there and stop Adam from being a really great film.

This is a very charming film that I enjoyed quite a lot. The performances are key, and the two lead actors, Dancy in particular, step up to the plate and really deliver. It felt natural, and I was quite immersed in the experience. Despite suffering from pacing issues and “magical disabled person syndrome” (if such a term exists), it’s still a very fun film with an absolutely perfect ending. You’re not in for heavy material here, but if you want a sweet romance movie, Adam might just fit the bill.

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