The following is a review I wrote for Adam when it was released in cinemas last August:
Over the years there have been numerous films that tackled the condition of Autism with such high profile actors as Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) and Sigourney Weaver (Snow Cake) both having played Autistic characters. However, aside from the little seen Mozart and the Whale starring Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell, another form of the condition known as Aspergers Syndrome has been all but ignored by the filmmaking community, until now that is. Adam is a romantic comedy starring British actor Hugh Dancy as a man with Aspergers who develops a romantic relationship with a cosmopolitan New York girl. Already a critical success and winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Adam will hopefully pave the way for future films involving characters with Aspergers, something that I, as a person who has the condition, greatly look forward to. Future films aside, however, the question is how does Adam fare? Is it a well made and entertaining film and perhaps more importantly does it accurately portray a condition which is quite common yet so many people know hardly anything about?
Romance can be risky, perplexing and filled with the perils of miscommunication - and that's if you aren't Adam, for whom life itself is this way. Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a handsome but intriguing young man with Aspergers Syndrome who has all his life led a sheltered existence - until he meets his new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne), a beautiful, cosmopolitan young woman who pulls him into the outside world, with funny, touching and entirely unexpected results. Their implausible and enigmatic relationship reveals just how far two people from different realities can stretch in search of an extraordinary connection.
Following a recent slew of mediocre Hollywood romantic comedies - The Proposal and The Ugly Truth you have been named and shamed - it is refreshing to see Adam, a film that could teach Hollywood filmmakers a few things about how romcoms should be done. Writer/director Max Mayer succeeds on two fronts with this film. Firstly, he has created a romantic comedy that is full of charm and warmth but that is based on a real world relationship with all the problems that entails as opposed to a fairytale happily ever after romance, and is free of many of the clichés and conventions that permeate mainstream romcoms. The film’s ending is far from a fairytale, being quite bittersweet in fact, but nonetheless the film will still leave you with a smile on your face because it is so sweet and touching that it really is hard not to love it. While not laugh out loud funny the film also has a good sense of humour, clean, honest, sincere and quirky, coming from heartfelt character moments rather than cheap, irrelevant gags. The second area in which Mayer greatly succeeds is in the manner in which Aspergers Syndrome is portrayed. He clearly knows his stuff and it really shows in the film, both in the script and in the production design. The film accurately portrays the condition and explanations for what is and how it affects those who have it are done using accurate terminology and presented in a manner that is simple without coming across as patronizing to moviegoers. Simple things in the production design such as the way Adam’s cupboards are arranged also accurately illustrate key factors of Aspergers and such little details really make a big impact. Certainly this film will educate viewers as well as entertain. The accurate portrayal of the condition isn’t entirely down to Mayer, however, with the performance of Hugh Dancy being pivotal. Dancy completely convinces as Adam, accurately portraying all the mannerisms associated with Aspergers and conveying all the difficulties and misunderstandings that come with it brilliantly. As a person with Aspergers I can honestly say that his performance rings true to life. Another great performance is given by Rose Byrne who is delightful as Beth and who convincingly portrays her character’s affections for Adam and frustrations at the difficulties she faces in her relationship with him. The relationship dynamic between them is extremely realistic, highlighting that a relationship with an Aspie is extremely difficult to maintain, and while it could be said that there isn’t much chemistry between them, this is really the point. Beth has genuine feelings for Adam but, due to his condition, he is unable to express such affections in return. This effectively illustrates how people with Aspergers are unable to experience love in the same fashion that others do. The tender and delightful performances of Dancy and Byrne are the heart and soul of the film, but there are also some good performances from the supporting cast, with Frankie Faison as Adam’s friend/confidante and Peter Gallagher (the focus of a subplot that doesn’t add much to the film as whole but is key in the character development of Beth) and Amy Irving playing Beth’s parents. All in all, Adam is an extremely touching film that successfully blends together both happiness and sadness to create a sweet, touching and entirely believable story of the difficulties people with Aspergers face when it comes to love and relationships. It is a truly delightful film that will leave you with a smile on your face and, quite possibly, a greater understanding of Aspergers Syndrome and those who have it.
Don't forget that Adam is available on DVD from Monday 15th February 2010.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)