Movie Review: Adam (2009)

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Due to the fun yet admittedly self-conscious trailer that features our eponymous lead character
uttering an obligatory Forrest Gump joke, I think that most people going to see writer/director Max Mayer's Adam will assume it will be a lighthearted romantic comedy with a little Asperger's Syndrome awareness on the side.

However, those expecting to be spoon-fed the same cinematic set-up of boy meets girl that we usually encounter will be quite surprised by the work that begins with both very little dialogue and also the sight of Hugh Dancy's Adam at the burial of his father.

Still inevitably Mayer does go for some rom-com conventions when the gifted genius meets cute with his new neighbor Beth (Rose Byrne) as we realize literally that if A (for Adam) and B (for Beth) share enough screen time then C (a romantic crush) will develop. Yet, it's nonetheless a remarkably brave decision to open the Sundance Film Festival award-winning work in a way that places visuals over dialogue.

As such, with an offscreen death and
acquainting us with the man who takes part in an evening ritual alongside laptop to offer him company and distraction, initially Adam is reminiscent of the start of Hal Ashby's Being There which also focused on a character who most likely suffered from some type of autism and engaged in repetitive distraction in the form of television instead of computers.

However, by choosing to convey a great deal of information visually instead of employing narration a la Fox Searchlight's other romantic themed film (500) Days of Summer or inventing a cliched character to offer us a back-story in the form of a monologue, Mayer's Adam therefore invites audiences to engage with the work on an intellectual level.

And while this is refreshing to say the least, fortunately for us, we're never required to possess the same technologically advanced knowledge that our main character uses to create expensive computer chip based toys until eventually he's let go because he can't make them cheap enough.

Obsessed with physics and the infinite nature of the universe which seems as infinite and unexplainable as our main character himself-- Adam is awe-struck when his beautiful neighbor Beth (Rose Byrne) seems to show more than just a polite interest in the cosmos.

A schoolteacher who aspires to become a children's book author, Beth is attracted to Adam from the start and finds his ideas of impressing her with an interior planetarium in his apartment and raccoon watching in Central Park charming... until that is, his bluntness goes a little too far. And soon he ultimately has to reveal that he lives with Asperger's Syndrome which prevents him from reading between the lines of the emotions, body language and internal process of others.

Uncomfortable in crowds, Adam is likewise unsure how to react when her parents (Amy Irving and Peter Gallagher) ask a halfhearted question about a historic theatre which results in Adam rattling off more facts than could fit into an entire encyclopedia. Still aside from their differences in social behavior, somehow the two fall into what could most likely be construed as love until you realize that "love" as an abstract, indefinable concept is something as hard to pinpoint for Adam as the data of other galaxies.

Exceedingly well acted by the entire ensemble cast-- in the film this is evident most importantly by Dancy who can bring tears to your eyes within seconds before he makes another startling remark unsure just why he's nearly arrested for simply watching the children on the playground at Beth's school.

And thankfully the film avoids the temptation to sugarcoat Asperger's Syndrome as well as the challenges faced by those living with and those who love individuals with disabilities. Additionally, while Mayer's film succeeds on a purely word-of-mouth, intimate charming level that like The Station Agent as the type of movie you want to hug and recommend to others-- sadly it suffers a bit when it hits a few unnecessarily protracted and predictable plot points.

Unfortunately, the delicate balance of the film is nearly lost as too much time is dedicated to the indictment and trial of Beth's smooth-talking yuppie father in a one-note role and subplot we couldn't be less interested in for the film other than-- like Adam's loss of a job-- having a timely Enron-esque significance. For, despite being well played by Peter Gallagher who's been typecast in these roles ever since Sex, Lies and Videotape and While You Were Sleeping, he's given nothing to work with and just hits his marks in a few contrived sequences that won't surprise anyone who's seen a romantic dramedy before as he tries to encourage Beth to date someone without a disability.

As the movie evolves and his character begins to devour the screen time, I began realizing that Adam was revealing yet another significant influence via the film's similarity to another Fox '80s classic-- Cameron Crowe's Say Anything. Although while the end of Say Anything was slightly vague yet far more optimistic about the characters' future together than The Graduate-- I think the way that Adam evolves and ultimately concludes will probably come as something of an unusual surprise for those fooled by the ads into believing the picture was going to be just a slight deviation of the rom-com genre.

While I hesitate to reveal anything other than to say that once again, the movie seems to appeal more to one's intellectual side by going for a natural progression of events as the two begin to grow and change thanks to one another in a way that relies on viewers to interpret, overall I have to share how pleased I was by the filmmaker's decision to avoid the trappings of the genre.

Although he nearly sabotaged his own cleverly devised picture with the uninteresting and unappealing plot surrounding Beth's parents that makes the Beth and Adam relationship suffer from stale predictability for a short period of time, in the end it's redeemed by the strength of it as a whole. Moreover by placing creativity at the forefront of Adam from the unique opener to the similarly intriguing conclusion, Mayer's infinitely likable work is a nice, old-fashioned and offbeat change of pace to the standard "boy meets girl" formula. And as such, it marks the best film of this type since Fox Searchlight's previous but superior sleeper hit (500) Days of Summer released just a few months ago.

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