“Adam” Brings Aspergers to the Big Screen

“Adam,” the latest film written and directed Max Mayer, is a refreshing departure from this past summer’s romantic comedies such as “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth.”

Adam

Set against a backdrop of a calm New York City autumn, “Adam” beautifully portrays an offbeat couple journeying together through personal heartache and mutual triumphs.

Hugh Dancy brilliantly portrays Adam Raki, a young man suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. Adam’s recent loss of his father puts his disorder on the forefront of Adam’s life as he struggles to function independently, at home and at work. His monotone routine of Mac N’ Cheese microwave dinners are pleasantly disrupted when Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne), a mild-mannered teacher and aspiring author, moves into his building. Adam’s extreme social awkwardness, inability to censor his sometimes brutal honesty, and long-winded small talks are all part of the package with Asperger’s, a social disorder on the Autism spectrum. However, it is exactly Adam’s quirkiness that intrigues Beth; Adam doesn’t hesitate to lend Beth his laundry card when she coyly mentions she forgot hers, or to help her carry a bag of groceries up a flight of stairs.

Meanwhile, Beth has to deal with her own problems, like her father (Peter Gallagher), who accuses her of fraud, a financial struggle which parallels Adam’s loss of his only source of income as a mechanical engineer. The two manage to find solace in their budding romance, both cautious as they try to navigate the foggy seas of love and Asperger’s.

Actors in the past such as Dustin Hoffman (“Rain Man”) and Sean Penn (“I Am Sam”) have played memorable characters that have battled mental disorders, demonstrating the fine line actors must walk between simple charm and realism. Dancy’s victory is evident, emerging as our protagonist as he manages to win Byrne’s heart as he bravely faces his Asperger’s while pursuing a relationship.

“Adam” is unique in that it manages to retain a realistic edge without becoming too heavy as the couple deals with Asperger’s crippling affects. They battle Adam’s social problems together, like dining in a crowded restaurant, or attending a party hosted by Beth’s friends; Adam becomes abnormally chatty, nervous and jittery, while Beth calms him and tries to make clear the blurry social lines Adam fails to read. Despite her family’s legal woes, Beth introduces her parents to Adam, whose blunt remarks to her father discourage Beth’s hope of a normally functioning relationship with him.

Adam is coping with the new found social interactions that come with a relationship, as well as his search for a new job leading him to an upcoming job interview, requiring daily coaching from Beth. Her patience, built up after years of working with children, is unwavering, building up Adam’s hope for a steady new job as the foundation of her family begins to crumble under the weight of her father’s trial.

Riding on the tail of quiet summer hit “500 Days of Summer,” “Adam” is also a story about love, rather than a love story. Despite his social awkwardness, Adam endears us with his acts of affection — her cleans Beth’s apartment window after she told him she couldn’t see the night sky. It is Adam’s good intentions that make up for his frequent lack of execution, making their courtship a sort of modern fairytale with a different kind of hero. With its PG-13 rating and running-time of 99 minutes, “Adam” will leave a lasting impression with its developed characters and mature perception of love.