Film Review: Adam

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PARK CITY -- By coincidence, "Adam" is the second film playing at Sundance 2009 to deal directly with a person suffering from Asperger's syndrome. As it did in "Mary and Max," this neurobiological disorder isolates a main character due to his difficulties in social interaction and his inability to understand what is on people's minds. In attempting to create a romantic film around such a character, writer-director Max Mayer tempts the cinema gods. The result could easily have been pure treacle or just very tacky. "Adam," fortunately, is neither.

Mayer never milks the situation for laughs -- although he does earn some good laughs -- nor does he use the affliction as a gimmick. Adam, played by Hugh Dancy, desires a relationship but can't imagine where to begin. Beth (Rose Byrne) is drawn to his sweet if at times obsessive personality, so she makes those first crucial moves.

"Adam" would need handling every bit as thoughtful as Mayer's approach to reach a theatrical audience. It may have more of a chance in cable and DVD, but a limited theatrical release is a possibility.

Dancy's Adam is actually a pretty interesting guy. One of the gags is that on certain favorite subjects such as astronomy or old New York theaters he can go on and on beyond most listeners' interest level. Yet much of what he says is pretty damn astute. Nor is he incapable of a wisecrack. There is a lot worse boyfriend material out there than this.

So Byrne's Beth gets him. She has just moved into a New York condo building where Adam has lived with his dad until he died recently. Getting over a bad relationship, she sees in him things she doesn't in other men. But then that's bound to be true, isn't it?

The relationship develops slowly and logically, just as the film's narrative has a natural flow. A subplot involving Beth's parents, played by Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving, works well in contrasting a mind given to openness and a childlike expression of one's thoughts versus a mind ruled by deviousness and mendacity. Which is the greater mental disease, the movie quietly wonders.

Dancy plays Adam as a natural child. His passions and inquisitiveness erupt with amiable energy. He knows he has a problem. But he's stuck within his own mind, so he asks for no sympathy

Byrne makes you see what she sees in Adam. She also makes you see why she might want that very much at this time in her life. He is as much a refuge for her as she is for him. It is to the movie's credit that it finds a happy ending for Adam -- but not the one you might expect.

All tech credits are thoroughly professional, especially Tamar Gadish's observant production design, which works extremely well with Seamus Tierney's understated cinematography.

Production: Olympus Pictures in association with Serenade Films, Deer Path Productions and VOX3 Films
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Frankie Faison, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Mark Linn-Baker
Director/screenwriter: Max Mayer
Producers: Leslie Urbdang, Miranda de Pencier, Dean Vanech
Executive producers: Dan Revers, Christina Weiss Lurie
Director of photography: Seamus Tierney
Production designer: Tamar Gadish
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Costume designer: Alysia Raycraft
Editor: Grant Myers
Sales: Film Sales Co, Andrew Herwitz

No rating, 97 minutes