Written and directed by Max Mayer, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Adam is a new movie about a guy with Asperger’s Syndrome. The guy’s name is Adam.
Before we continue, I would like to say that except maybe in the case of Aladdin or Hamlet or Gandhi, it’s automatically lame when a movie’s title is just its main character’s name. In the case of Adam, all we get from the title, aside from a little bit of Biblical confusion, is a dispiriting premonition of writer-director Max Mayer’s laziness.
I would also like to say that in the case of Adam, Asperger’s Syndrome seems an awful lot like just another way of saying wish fulfillment for callow, sensitive dudes who can’t be bothered to get better at relationships. Or maybe for the girlfriends who can’t resist mothering them? I’m sure we all can agree that it is more enjoyable to watch such things on the big screen than on Lifetime.
By day, Adam is an electronics engineer living in Manhattan. By night, he’s still an engineer, but with elaborate interests in astronomy and Central Park raccoons. Other important Adam facts: His father has just died; he subsists on a diminishing supply of neatly stacked boxes of mac-and-cheese; and he is more than just a neurological disorder, thank you very much. In fact, he’s a token non-threatening movie version of one. It helps a lot that Adam is very well played by Hugh Dancy, last seen as an altogether different kind of boyfriend material -- namely, the ideal -- in Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Adam’s new neighbor, Beth, is played by Rose Byrne, and she's lovely -- all sassy boots and cheekbones. More importantly, she’s tolerant. Beth teaches kindergarteners, and aspires to write books for them. “My favorite children’s book is about a little prince who came to Earth,” she says very early in the film, invoking Antoine de St. Exupery’s classic and possibly striking a cautionary note about unrealistic expectations. Beth’s other boyfriends, and her father (Peter Gallagher), have proven unreliable. How so doesn’t really matter, except to establish the emotional circumstances by which Adam’s literalism and tendency to stare into the middle distance might appeal to her. If nothing else, she could be his life coach. Beth is pretty much the movie-poster girl for neuro-typicality.
And that’s about all there is to it. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the tonally characteristic scene in which Beth asks Adam if he can give her a hug and he doesn’t understand that she means right now. In another scene, Beth brings Adam a box of chocolates, and he says, “I’m not Forrest Gump, you know.” That’s true. Forrest Gump got out more. Also, Forrest Gump didn’t have an autism spectrum disorder. But if Beth had brought him a box of toothpicks and spilled them on the floor and expected Adam to count them, and he’d said, “I’m not Rain Man, you know,” that just wouldn't have the same magic. Such as it is. Anyway, it takes Beth a moment to figure out that he’s making a joke. Now who has trouble reading emotional cues, eh? Well, yes, that would still be Adam, who also has trouble making jokes, but we’ve got to hand it to him for trying.