Maybe we should keep the role playing in the bedroom.

Golden Mug

Song (“When You Find Me” by Joshua Radin)

Theatrical Release Date: 08/14/2009
Director: Max Mayer
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Frankie Faison

I made the assumption that after seeing “(500) Days of Summer, my selection for favorite film of the year would be set. Sure the studios usually wait until the end of the year to release all of the awards hopefuls but they rarely worm their way into my psyche; that is, I differentiate between a well made, trophy gathering film and another quality film that might not have the big speech that gets voters’ attention but the film captivates me – making a lasting impression like so few films manage to do.

Such is the case with “Adam”, a little film, made for under a million dollars, about a man (Hugh Dancy) with Asperger’s Syndrome (in the same vein as autism) who finds himself attracted to the new woman (Rose Byrne) in the apartment building. She’s feeling vulnerable thanks to a recent break-up and her father (Peter Gallagher) being indicted for white collar crime.

What I especially enjoyed was the palpable desperation in both of them that their relationship covers up … at least initially. So often, we form relationships out of an emotional need to mask something else and it was beautiful to watch in the film. Both Dancy and Bryne do a fantastic job here; giving their characters the right balance of compassion and frailty. Each are coping with situations neither can control and they find solace in one another.

For those who are unfamiliar with Asperger’s, it’s on the autism scale but shouldn’t make you think the individual can’t function in the real world. I’m being broad in this take on things but the syndrome often results in one’s inability to decipher another person’s mood or intent – sarcasm is the last thing one should try with someone who has this condition. There can also be issues about social interactions, especially in larger settings, making sensory overload not so much a matter of if but when.

I must admit I was a little surprised at how endearing Dancy could be because I’ve always found him to be on the dull side in his past films (“Confessions of a Shopaholic“, “Evening“, “Ella Enchanted”). Being challenged not only with the task of being someone audiences might deem worthy of the very lovely Rose Byrne, he also has to portray his character’s condition with a sense of realism, and hopefully dignity.

Dancy plays all of this capably and writer/director Max Mayer’s contributions go a long way to developing a role that audiences can sympathize and empathize with but never pity. Adam may need to approach things differently than other people but the capability is there – being overly accommodating is really just being patronizing.

Matching, and even superseding Dancy’s performance, Byrne couldn’t be more perfect for her part. She navigates her character through multiple archetypes as the relationship between her and Adam becomes more and more complicated. Like real life, her reasons for being attracted to Adam constantly shift as new information is gained; cycling back and forth from physical attraction to rebellion to desire to love to compassion to understanding – all in a very real and organic manner.

In many ways, although it’s his name in the movie title, Byrne is the central character; it’s through her eyes that the audience sees everything in Adam. If she didn’t deliver the goods, the film would just have been a sad tale of a man with real obstacles between him and storybook happiness.

One of the things that really impressed me was the pair’s exceptional chemistry, despite budget constraints and scheduling that gave the actors little more than a day to really rehearse. Relying on the script, director and their instincts, Dancy and Byrne forge a believable dynamic as if it were magic – their illusion becoming reality in the audience’s mind.

Also, neither actor ever slips up to the point where the audience can fault their character. No matter how they handle a situation, it’s clearly understood that both are doing the best they can at any given moment and that malice is something neither are capable of. Even when anger gets the best of their characters, there’s never a doubt in your mind that the pair don’t care deeply for one another.

At a Q&A session following a screening, parents of individuals who have Asperger’s commended Mayer and Dancy for such a realistic portrayal of the syndrome. That’s higher praise than I can really give and hopefully the film can serve to enlighten people about Asperger’s, removing some of the stigma one might feel about it and erasing some of the recent portrayals on TV that, according to the parents in the audience, failed to get it anywhere near as right as the filmmakers of “Adam”.

I think it’s readily apparent that this film connected with me; I’ve been thinking about it and all the thoughts and memories it provoked for days now and it even brought Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Fumbling Towards Ecstasy’ album back to the top of my playlist. It’s a shame more movies aren’t crafted with such care and devotion and after viewing the film another time, I’ve decided to bestow “Adam” with a strong 4 out of 5. There’s a bittersweet quality that I loved about the project and although I’d say that “(500) Days of Summer” is brighter and better for a fun time, “Adam” left a bigger impression and is for those of you out there who want a little more drama in their romantic films.