At first glance, “Adam,” the freshman effort by director Max Mayer, seems full of pitfalls. It’s a Woody Allen-esque New York love story about a man with Asberger’s Syndrome; besides the obvious problem of any actor attempting to portray someone with a developmental disorder (or, as Robert Downey, Jr. put so eloquently in “Tropic Thunder,” “go full retard”) I feared greatly that the indie kitsch-factor would be far too much to bear. Believe me folks, we’re about two years away from the DSM-IV recognizing “hipster indie fatigue” as a legitimate condition.
Starring: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher
Seen at: Loew’s Boston Common
On the main, however, “Adam,” and especially Hugh Dancy who gives an incredible performance as the title character, manages to avoid the usual dramedy landmines. For those who are unfamiliar, Asberger’s is a condition on the autism spectrum; broadly defined, it makes the sufferer unable to understand social situations, feel a normal level of empathy or read nonverbal cues. Adam has the condition, and after his father dies he’s left lost and somewhat alone in New York City, until he begins a relationship with Beth, a woman who lives upstairs (Rose Byrne).
Dancy is given the unenviable task of both carrying the majority of the movie and walking that thready fine line between a true portrayal of developmental disorder and simple mockery. He did better than I would have believed possible for the man who’s last film was “Confessions of a Shopoholic.” Instead of being twitchy, or obvious, Dancy executes Adam’s condition in a sense of terrible, unending discomfort with the world around him. Besides a few safe places that he knows, the entire city is a field of traps; restaurants are impossible, as are parties, or a particularly heinous scene when he’s forced to meet Beth’s parents. It’s a strangely graceful performance, and one that Dancy should be proud of.
Byrne performs admirably as Beth, though her character isn’t nearly as well-written as Dancy’s is. We understand quite a bit less about Beth and I wish there was more of her. As always, the inimitable Peter Gallagher gives a great performance as Beth’s sleazy yet winning father. But perhaps the real star of “Adam” is Mayer; this is Mayer’s first feature film and he approached his material with a tremendous sense of honesty and compassion. There are quite a few funny parts in “Adam,” but we never feel we’re making fun of him.
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