Adam: Sweeter Than Your Average “Disability Film”
How many movies can you think of where the two main characters are genuinely nice? I mean, characters who have true concern for the well-being of others without guile or ulterior motive? What’s more, how many of these films are set in New York City? Adam is about two nice people, and the first hour contain some of the most endearing scenes of the year. Dealing with love without being shlocky, dealing with mental disability without being patronizing, it’s never an epic romance yet it hits all the right notes. The ending is mildly unsatisfactory, but for anyone looking for a sweet September film, Adam will do nicely.
Hugh Dancy plays Adam, a young man with Asperger’s whose father has just passed away, leaving him to live by himself in the big city. His place of employment, who hired him as a favor to the father, decides to let him go as well. Simultaneously, Beth (Rose Byrne) moves into the same building, and a mutual attraction develops before either knows anything about the other. Once Beth learns that Adam has Asperger’s, she at first is very hesitant, but then decides that the relationship is worth pursuing. They grow together and work through the various struggles that each has– Adam searching for employment, and Beth trying to help her father (Peter Gallagher) as he prepares for potential jail time. Adam also begins to discover the difficulty of dating a city girl who has certain social requirements that Adam struggles to want to meet.
The heart and soul of the film is Dancy, who resists playing the “handicapped character” rather than playing the character itself. He details the physical and emotional troubles that come with Asperger’s without overacting– while most actors would be tempted to overact in hopes of landing an Oscar nomination, Dancy might have earned one by doing the exact opposite. Rose Byrne also could have done a great deal of Suffering with a capital S in her depiction of Beth, struggling with both family issues and caring for the peculiar man she loves, but instead holds it together admirably. When she tells Adam she wants him to give her a hug, it ranks high on the list of 2009’s Tear-Inducing Lines. It’s easy to imagine the terror one feels when you cannot figure out what other people are thinking, especially someone you care about. People without Asperger’s feel enough anxiety about trying to do right by the person they love, and they don’t have that obstacle to hurdle.
Unfortunately, the end of the film is a letdown. The plot dictates the film’s multiple story lines all come to a close, so the movie strays from the sweet problem-solving the characters were doing and results in courtroom scenes, front-yard confrontations, and long night-time walks. Oh well. The first hour of the film is more than enough to still give it a solid recommendation. At a time when “disability movies” are more about the syndrome than the person, and when romances are about modern cynics who need to get in touch with their heart rather than people who don’t need to learn deep lessons in order to appreciate love, Adam stands out from the crowd. In fact, it so sweetly depicts the love life of a man with Asperger’s that it garners more respect and understanding than any Important Film about the syndrome possibly could.