‘Adam’ doesn’t come to life beyond illness angle

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, September 3, 2009 5:27pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It seems to me the acid test for a movie about someone with an illness is, whether the movie’s characters, setting, dialogue, etc., be just as compelling without the illness.

On that score, “Adam” fails; this one depends entirely on its particular issue. The title character is a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, a subject that completely dominates the movie.

Asperger’s is frequently described as a form of high-functioning autism, a condition that (among other things) leads to difficulty in picking up social cues and a tendency to focus single-mindedly on certain subjects.

Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a thirtyish man who has inherited a condo from his recently deceased father. As an intelligent and attractive dude, he naturally comes to the attention of his neighbor Beth (Rose Byrne).

As they date, Beth finds Adam quirky and literal-minded, but she doesn’t know about the Asperger’s diagnosis. Adam tells her the truth, but by then she wants to, as they say, make the relationship work.

“Adam” takes the “Rain Main” approach, balancing out its drama with a comedic view of Adam’s disability, an approach that usually stops short of him being the butt of jokes.

And in fact the film is funny, with good timing and some decent behavioral humor.

On the other hand, “Adam” flounders to get anything going beyond the subject of Asperger’s syndrome. This is an interesting issue, and writer-director Max Mayer obviously cares about getting it right, but the film doesn’t really come to life beyond that.

The subsidiary characters are lifeless, and an attempt to create interest around Beth’s parents, played by Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving, simply leaves these actors high and dry.

That leaves us to appreciate the performances given by Rose Byrne (from “28 Days Later” and “Wicker Park”), a remarkable actress who keeps threatening to break through, and Hugh Dancy, who’s been toiling in the fields of the “chick flick” of late (“Confessions of a Shopaholic,” “The Jane Austen Book Club”).

They’re good enough to keep this movie afloat. Dancy has a lock on not violating his character’s empathy-challenged nature and thus suddenly getting all cuddly on us. For an actor, whose business is empathy, that must be a difficult temptation to resist.

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