BY TIMOTHY RABB
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 10, 2009
At the Michigan Theater
3 out of 5 stars
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Here's the formula: A heartrending tragedy precedes an unlikely friendship. The friendship is then followed by more tragedy and finally, a painfully sappy and ambiguous resolution. Sound familiar? It should, but don’t write this film off just yet. There is a hopeful charm that carries “Adam” to a higher ground than that occupied by most romantic comedies.
“Adam” follows a socially defunct young man of the same name (Hugh Dancy, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”) as he navigates the twists and turns inherent in daily life. The difficulty of these obstacles, however, is exacerbated by his case of high-functioning autism. Adam is a self-described “Aspie” (a slang term for a person with Asperger Syndrome) who develops an attachment to his beautiful, well-mannered neighbor Beth (Rose Byrne, “28 Weeks Later”). Naturally, Adam’s shortcomings cause tension that builds and eventually, in light of several haphazard events, comes to a head.
All in all, the mediocrity of "Adam" is the result of its unwillingness to push any pre-established boundaries. The film seems unable to establish the vital social connection between screen and audience that every well-crafted movie should possess. It also hangs in a precarious balance between an enlightening, relevant work of art and another romance film knockoff. The exhausted genre conventions used in "Adam" only serve to highlight the unfortunate condition of contemporary rom-coms.
However monotonous the film’s structure may be, the subject matter is unique and engaging. Adam’s distinctly childlike emotional outbursts and brilliant grasp of complex subjects endow him with an endearing personality that wins Beth’s heart and, in many cases, viewers' hearts. Dancy’s accurate representation of Adam's condition is brilliantly executed. The character's displays of emotional volatility are sincere enough to demand the same empathy from the audience that Adam lacks.
According to the film, the token trait of a person with Asperger's is uncompromising truthfulness. A key part of the film balances on this quality in Adam and its moral implications. When Beth’s father is accused of adultery and serious crimes against his business clients, the hypocrisy of his subsequent criticisms of Adam is made remarkably evident. This should cause audiences to question whether unwavering honesty is really an undesirable and immature trait, or if it indicates Adam’s superior sense of principle. There are moments in the movie when one wonders whether Adam’s avoidance of needless small talk and superficial social situations is indeed a disability, or perhaps a blessing in disguise.
The movie’s tendency to shy away from a firm stance on Asperger's syndrome is irksome. It seems inconsequential to produce a film in which a group’s shared traits are described in full detail but where no opinion is brought forward as to the true state of Adam’s normalcy. "Adam" is a work with a strong subject but too quiet a voice.