by Jessica Mosby
- USA -
Most American romantic comedies and dramadies go something like this: two attractive people "meet cute"; after some witty banter, and maybe a date, they find themselves in bed together; immediately following this sexual encounter they refer to one another as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend"; then some silly misunderstanding momentarily tears them apart; and finally they reconcile and ride off into the sunset – all in a mere 90 minutes.
Adam (Hugh Dancy) and Beth (Rose Byrne) do "meet cute" - twice, actually. The first time is in the laundry room of their New York City apartment building. Beth, a mildly neurotic twentysomething with a penchant for scarves, has just moved into the building and is doing laundry for the first time when Adam walks in carrying his laundry basket. Although the meeting is awkward, there is an obvious chemistry between them. During their second encounter, Adam sits on the stoop gamely chatting about his interests while Beth hauls a load of groceries up the stairs. He seems very excited to see her, but never offers to help lighten her load.
After an impromptu date in Central Park, the two seem to be getting along well – until Adam innocently asks an inappropriate question. Before a bewildered Beth walks out of Adam’s apartment, he apologizes by explaining that he has Asperger’s syndrome, a neurobiological disorder on the autism spectrum. Although Adam lives independently and works as an electrical engineer, he cannot read social cues, is unable to empathize with others, and has a strong aversion to change.The revelation explains much of Adam’s behavior that initially confounded Beth. But she is not turned-off by a 29 year old man who eats macaroni and cheese for dinner every night, is socially inept, and who constantly speaks his mind, even if his observations are considered rude. She is intrigued by his quirks and attracted to him. Soon the two slowly embark on an unconventional romance. The connection between Adam and Beth feels genuine because Adam is not Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and Beth is not Robin Wright Penn in Forrest Gump.
The film’s portrayal of autism is both respectful and realistic; the film never degrades Adam or makes fun of his autistic behavior. Jonathan Kaufman, founder of Disabilityworks, inc., worked with Mayer when he was writing the script, “making sure that it was authentic and stayed true to the behaviors and nuances of someone with Asperger’s syndrome.” He also collaborated with Dancy on character development. While visiting the set, Kaufman says he saw “Hugh transform into someone who had all the behavioral tones of someone with high functioning autism.” He and the production team also visited Kaufman’s Adaptations program to meet and interview people who are living with autism. As a result, Dancy’s portrayal of Adam never veers into offensive caricatures.
It’s easy to understand why Beth, an elementary school teacher and aspiring author, is drawn to Adam. He is a very sweet and likeable character whose disability is subtly documented. The circumstances that overwhelm him – his father’s recent death and being laid-off from his job – are enough to send anyone into a tailspin. Beth, who has just broken up with her cheating investment banker boyfriend, understandably likes Adam’s innocent and honest nature.Byrne and Dancy are both perfectly cast in their respective roles. The same cannot be said for Beth’s parents, Marty (Peter Gallagher) and Rebecca (Amy Irving). In an extraneous and melodramatic subplot, Marty lies to his family, is sentenced to jail, and admits to an affair with a family friend. Rebecca stands by her man the whole time, playing the dutiful and long-suffering wife. Irving is a great actress who deserves more than this one-dimensional role. The usually likeable Gallagher is unbelievable in the role playing such a jerk.
The film’s subplot is unnecessary and distracts from the great onscreen chemistry between Byrne and Dancy. Predictably, Marty dislikes Adam because he has Asperger’s syndrome, and tries to dissuade Beth from continuing the relationship. Pitting the lying father against the painfully honest boyfriend just seems too obvious for a film otherwise laced with such real emotion.
Rarely in movies are people with disabilities portrayed in a positive light. According to Kaufman, “In a world where the number of kids diagnosed with autism is 1 in 150, this type of film will provide real insight into the life of someone with high functioning autism,” and he hopes, “provide real hope for millions of families.”
Adam is a very sweet and quiet love story about two lonely people who find one another at the right time. The fact that the film’s hero has Asperger’s syndrome creates a sense of realism, which is especially welcome in a cinematic genre generally riddled with clichés.
Jessica's review is part of our focus on disability issues. - Ed.
About the Author
Jessica Mosby is a writer and critic living in Oakland, California. In the rare moments when she's not traveling across the United States for work, Jessica enjoys listening to public radio, buying organic food at local farmers markets, trolling junk stores, and collecting owl-themed tchotchke.