Adam (2009): United States – directed by Max Mayer

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some mild sexual content, brief strong language

Adam is a fairly conventional romantic dramedy, albeit one with a slight twist.  The poster proclaims that it is a story about two strangers, one a little stranger than the other.  This may be true, as the titular Adam (Hugh Dancy) has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a label that may soon no longer be diagnosed, as it will perhaps be described as simply autism, albeit high functioning).  And while this small twist does make for a slightly elevated telling of a conventional romantic drama, it isn’t enough to make the film entirely memorable.

At the beginning of the film Adam loses his dad, though he doesn’t react as most NT’s (neuro-typicals) might in the same situation.  He doesn’t cry, doesn’t emote at all.  He simply goes home and continues his life, going to work at a toy company where he is able to practice his electronic engineering skills in relative isolation.

He lives in an apartment, and doesn’t know quite what to make of the new girl who moves in.  Her name is Beth (Rose Byrne) and she is pretty and friendly.  She, likewise, doesn’t know what to make of Adam.  He seems sweet, but fails to comprehend simple social interactions.  As she struggles hauling bags of groceries up the steps, he is content to sit and look at stars on his laptop, even as she strongly hints that she could use help.

But hints don’t work for Adam.  He is as literal-minded as the artificial intelligences he builds for toys at his workplace.  Idioms and puns elude him, and jokes do not connect.  Likewise, he struggles to understand how other people might be feeling.  As he and Beth grow closer more of his idiosyncrasies show themselves.  It is inevitable that they will fall in love, or as close an approximation as Adam can manage.  Beth has feelings too, but worries about a long term relationship.

Beth’s family is another concern.  Her parents are very wealthy, and most of her friends belong to the upper middle class (is there even such a thing as an upper class anymore?), and relate with Adam very poorly.  Her father, Marty (Peter Gallagher), is an accountant under indictment for possible accounting fraud, while her mother Rebecca (Amy Irving) stands silently by, supportive but skeptical.

The film proceeds smoothly enough, as Adam and Beth get to know each other and start going out.  Then there are some troubles, as Adam loses his job and must find a new one.  Interviews aren’t his strong suit.  The climax of the film, in many ways, intertwines Adam’s preparations for an interview with Marty’s trial.  This is an odd mixture, and occasionally stumbles.  There are many of the familiar trappings of romantic films, as the couple is torn apart, chooses to be apart, is together, and then all tossed up.  The ending, fortunately, is slightly off the beaten path.  While not offering a concrete summation it presents hope that the characters have become better people.

Adam is enjoyable, and a sweet romance.  There are some moments of humor, and some moments of sadness.  There are a number of pensive moments, and some interesting insights into the human process.  Adam takes everything literally, and does not have many inhibitions when speaking.  He blurts out the truth, because he sees no reason to spare feelings (because he has trouble comprehending others’ feelings).  Maybe this isn’t so bad, particularly when Beth’s uppity friends have immense difficulty saying what they mean.  The film’s strongest moments are when it challenges the way people generally perceive the world.  Adam sees things differently, and making the audience think about this different perspective is a thought-provoking challenge.

While the film is interesting, there are segments that are overly didactic.  One can learn much, most of it accurate as long as a viewer remembers this is the autism spectrum, and not everyone will be the same.  There are some odd inclusions, such as the sage black man, Harlan (Frankie Fraison), who dispenses wisdom to Adam at various intervals.  His connection to Adam’s family is tenuous and out of place (he was Adam’s dad’s war buddy).

Dancy is generally impressive as Adam, and Byrne is cute and attractive, but not always fantastic as an actress.  Part of it is the script, which requires her to vacillate wildly in her dealings with Adam from time to time.  But the film is not bad, and it is occasionally enjoyable.  Those interested in Asperger’s or autism will be more involved than some audiences, but fans of romantic dramas will also be entertained.  There is nothing particularly incredible nor particularly defective in the film.

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