In the film, Adam¸ we first meet Adam as he watches his father’s casket get buried. For the first time in his life, he is alone. He returns home and we begin to realize that change is not something Adam is accustomed to: he has the same frozen dinners lined in his freezer, the same type of suits lined in his closet. Each day he goes to his job and methodically creates electronic talking doll parts, and each night he returns to the large apartment he shared with his father to methodically eat his frozen dinners while his laptop feeds him information. What fascinates Adam most is space. He can tell you about the constellations and the planets, even if you don’t ask him to. One night, after he realizes that he hasn’t done laundry in over a week, Adam rushes to the machines in his building and that’s when he meets Beth, the beautiful new tenant who moves in upstairs from him. As the door to his old life with his father has just closed, a new door is opening.
Beth has just gotten out of a bad relationship and she’s looking for a friend. The friend she gets in Adam turns out to be something she never would have expected. She learns this the night they’re sitting on his couch having a friendly cup of tea and in his odd cadence Adam asks, “we’re you excited…. sexually, when we were in the park?” Beth is confused and replies, “Uh… no.” Then Adam continues, “I ask because I was and I wondered if you were, too.” Beth quickly decides to leave. At that point, Adam reveals that he has Asperger syndrome. a form of autism. From there the film begins to explore the friendship that develops between Beth and Adam, a friendship that eventually becomes love.
This breakdown of writer/director Max Myers sweet indie film may sound a little like a Hollywood storybook film, but it is far from it. Perhaps twenty years ago a big studio would have taken on the subject matter of Asperger’s in the realistic manner this film does, but no more. Now we must rely on independent films to explore unique ideas like the ones in Adam, even if those ideas are placed in a plot that follows many of the basic rules of screenwriting.
Story aside, there are many more wonderful reasons to watch Adam. Seamus Tierney provides some wonderful cinematography and Christopher Lennertz’s delicate score perfectly compliments the ever-changing moods of the film. But the real reasons to watch this film are the performances of Hugh Dancy and Adam and Rose Byrne as Beth.
Dancy isn’t a well-known actor in the states; if this film had received a wider release I imagine more people would have seen the film and perhaps he would have been recognized during this awards season. His acting could have been a caricature, but he brings nuance to the part and delivers a funny and heartfelt performance. Byrne will be recognizable to those of you who’ve seen the acclaimed FX drama, Damages, or perhaps the Nicholas Cage sci-fi pic from last year, Knowing. In both of those projects her characters were cool, almost emotionless characters. But in Adam, Byrne’s Beth is warm, quirky and honest.
The supporting cast is just as fine. Frankie Faison (The Wire) plays Adam’s friend (his father’s old war buddy) and father figure, Peter Gallagher is Beth’s shady father (the type of role he’s mastered in his career) and Amy Irving (always good to see her on screen) is strong and commanding as Beth’s mother.
My favorite aspect of this film was the bracingly authentic approach to the relationship that develops between Beth and Adam. Instead of portraying this love affair as some Hallmark Hall of Fame, soft lighted cry fest, Beth and Adam piss each other off. Furthermore, Beth isn’t afraid to yell at him when the quirks of his disorder embarrass her. Fortunately, Beth is a good person and does her best to make him understand why she loses it. The end result of these scenes is usually funny and frustrating at the same time.
This is Max Mayer’s first feature film, but he is no Hollywood novice. He has spent years working in television working on shows like Alias and The West Wing. In Adam, he has given us yet another reason to appreciate what the independent film scene has to offer. This quirky, funny and moving movie is one that should be enjoyed by any fan of cinema.