There's a sense throughout Adam that writer/director Max Mayer has crafted his film very carefully. There are few, if any, moments that seem like they could offend or turn heads or overstep bounds. And that's probably not surprising, considering that it's not every day a film features a character with Asperger's syndrome as a romantic lead. The downside of Mayer's restrained approach is that Adam doesn't build a ton of momentum. The upside is that the central romance is so well-written and well-performed that it's worth seeing through to the end.
The lead character, of course, is Adam (Hugh Dancy), an engineer with a love for outer space. He also has Aspberger's, a kind of high-functioning autism that causes him to have trouble navigating social situations. That's especially problematic when he meets Beth (Rose Byrne), who's new to his apartment building and attempts to befriend him. Beth isn't the most social of creatures herself — in one early scene, she laments to her father that being an only child has made her permanently socially inept — and she seems to understand Adam even before he tells her about his Aspberger's. The two of them become friends, and then more, leading to a fairly unusual big-screen romance. Want to know what makes this film work? Just read more.
By far, the performances by Byrne and Dancy are the best part of Adam. Dancy, in particular, completely owns the movie with his performance, which is evocative, sensitive, and occasionally surprising. At times, he and Mayer's script play Adam's misreading of social situations for laughs (or, at least, chuckles), including the moment when Adam attempts to clean Beth's windows while dangling outside the building wearing a space suit. Other times, it's hard to tell what Adam is going to do: when Adam becomes angry with Beth at one point, it feels like we're seeing a side of him that he tries hard to keep hidden. Byrne, meanwhile, effectively shows both the love Beth feels for Adam and her confusion about feeling it. Beth knows that a relationship with Adam will never be easy, but Byrne manages to make us understand why Beth wants it anyway.
But Adam isn't just about Adam and Beth's relationship. There's another theme at work, one about truth and honesty, which we see mostly through a side story about Beth's family. Beth essentially has two men in her life: Adam, who for better or worse says exactly what she's thinking, and her father, who's slowly revealed to be less virtuous than Beth might have thought. (A third man — an ex-boyfriend who cheated on Beth — lurks in the background, unseen but clearly influencing some of Beth's actions.) When Mayer's script ties the two stories together, it's almost too neatly done; there's nothing unexpected about that resolution.
What did surprise me, though, was the ending — which, without saying too much, is where I hoped Mayer would take these characters without ever believing until the movie's final moments that he actually would. It's not necessarily new, or different, or shocking, but it is sweet and satisfying. And overall, that's the story of Adam itself.
Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight