Adam (2009)

Love conquers all?

It seems that most romantic comedies tread a fine line between schmaltzy melodrama and acerbic sarcasm; very few manage to successfully walk the tightrope between the two. And although writer/director Max Mayer’s first film since 1998’s forgotten Better Living doesn’t fall heavily on either side, it certainly dips a toe or two in the stream of sentimentality.

Following the death of his father, Adam (Hugh Dancy) attempts to carry on as normal in the Manhattan apartment he shared with his dad. This is made more difficult by the fact that Adam suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, and so finds it difficult to interact with those around him as he handles his emotions in a very different, extremely pragmatic way. When he meets his new neighbour Beth (Rose Byrne), Adam feels an instant connection and the pair embark on a tentative friendship that soon blossoms into love. But as Adam attempts to bear the weight of his new feelings, trying to find a job and the disapproval of Beth’s parents, their relationship comes under threat from the realities – and normalities – of everyday life.

On the surface, Mayer’s scrip, could so easily have wandered dangerously close to movie of the week territory; in the world of cinema there’s nothing so easily, one-dimensionally worthy as portraying someone who is, for whatever reason, a social misfit – let alone one who earns the sympathies and understanding of a so-called normal person. But, thankfully, Adam never feels like an empty sentiment, thanks largely to the strength of its two leads. The film absolutely hangs on the characters of Adam and Beth, and Dancy and Byrne have between them enough charm, grace and likeability to keep the narrative moving apace, and in the right direction.

Praise, too, should go to Dancy for his honest and unaffected performance of Adam, a man suffering from a condition that is still so alien and misunderstood. Dancy never allows Adam to turn into a victim and, although 90-odd minutes is not nearly long enough to explore the many and varied emotional and psychological facets of Asperger’s, his portrayal is straightforward enough that Adam remains the focus of the film, rather than a mere sympathetic bystander. In fact, it’s the performances of both Dancy and the ever-watchable Bryne that lift the film out of the melodramatic doldrums and so, although Mayer has failed to either make a serious film about autism or push the boundaries of the romantic comedy genre, Adam is an enjoyable, forgettable love story.

3 stars

Stars Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne
Director & Screenplay Max Mayer
Certificate 12A
Distributor 20th Century Fox
Running Time 1hr 38mins
Opens August 7