Movie Review: Adam (2009)

Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy in Adam
Photo: Fox Searchlight

Adam begins on a down note as we meet the film’s title character played by Hugh Dancy following a funeral held for his father. He’s given a ride home by Harlan (Frankie Faison), a close family friend, and dropped off with hardly a word. Once inside he heads over to a white board reading “Adam’s Chores” and “Dad’s Chores.” He grabs the pen and crosses out “Dad’s Chores” before picking up a broom and starting to sweep up the hardwood floors in what is now his Manhattan condo. It’s a delicate introduction that raises more questions than concern, setting the mood for a film that is well-acted, but manages to mess it all up in the end.

Adam suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, and while Dancy’s performance is top notch and never crosses over into the ludicrous, the film itself bends midway through and conforms to all stereotypical conceits of story-telling involving a protagonist dealing with a handicap or disease.

Getting off to a good start, Adam is more of a romance than a film about a man with Asperger’s as Adam befriends Beth (Rose Byrne), a school teacher that has just moved into Adam’s building and has taken a shine to his curious and mild-mannered ways. As the two grow closer the film slowly gets worse and worse, so much so there is a scene where Beth goes to her school’s nurse and asks about Asperger’s only to receive an infomercial description obviously designed to inform the viewers more than it intends to instruct Beth. “As a matter of fact, I think I have a book on it,” says the nurse. At that point I almost expected a pop quiz after the credits rolled.

Filled with acoustic guitar and songs that may has well been written using the film’s plotline, Adam slowly dissolves from being a well-acted and unique romance into a sappy disability story that loses its basis in reality in an attempt to tug at your heart strings. Such an example occurs when Adam finally breaks free from his inability to leave the confines of Manhattan and treks far up north in search of Beth. He has the address and he has taken almost every mode of transportation to get there, and we watch and watch and watch, only to have him finally arrive and stand in the middle of the road yelling Beth’s name as opposed to just walking up and ringing the doorbell. It’s maddening considering the circumstances.

Even worse is a drastically unnecessary plotline involving Beth’s parents (Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving) that only seems to exist in an effort to create some sort of meager villain-type as well as stretch out the story because they couldn’t figure out anything else for Beth and Adam to do.

It’s unfortunate, because this was a film that had 45 minutes of solid story with some excellent performances that seemed to just give up and go along its predictable path to an ending that doesn’t carry the weight it could have. If you know anything at all about Asperger’s you are prepared for the inevitable from the get-go and Adam’s personality and mannerisms lead you down that path all too easily, a fact that overshadows the excellent acting on the part of both Byrne and Dancy. This isn’t to say this is a downright awful movie, but it is a movie that hit a major bump midway through and was never able to right itself.