This romance fails to take chances

Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy in Max Mayer’s “Adam.’’ Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy in Max Mayer’s “Adam.’’ (Photos By Julia Griner/Serenade Films/Fox Searchlight via Bloomberg)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / August 7, 2009

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What should we do with “Adam’’? We could start by wishing it a livelier title. The Adam to whom it refers is a lonely New York toymaker who has Asperger’s syndrome. People associated with “Adam’’ seem to be seeing it as a useful tool to raise awareness for the disorder, which, for those who live with it, makes social interactions difficult, among other things. But the movie, which Max Mayer wrote and directed, also flavorlessly combines romance, sitcom, and television drama in the hopes of entertainment. So while it’s probable that this movie will bring Asperger’s to an audience that’s never heard of or experienced it, it’s also likely to bore them.

There’s probably a daring movie to be made from this disease. In the meantime, we have the story of what happens when Adam (Hugh Dancy) meets Beth (Rose Byrne). She moves in upstairs from him, reeling from a breakup with a successful man whom we never see. This unseen man sounds like the sort of missed opportunity only a prospective father-in-law would miss (he made a lot of money and wore a suit). Indeed, Beth’s father, played by a clenched, Long Island-y Peter Gallagher, is sadder about the relationship’s demise than his daughter.

In any case, Adam has just lost his father. His only friend appears to be his occasional nurse, played by Frankie Faison, who handles Adam’s verbal tics and single-mindedness with a mix of patience and irritation. Beth is more saintly. It’s the schoolteacher and aspiring children’s book author in her, which makes you wonder how the movie might have gone had this character been a corporate lawyer.

The fascinating, unexpected complications that could arise from the relationship never arrive. And the ones that do are resolved rather curtly. Adam is built almost entirely of quirks: He’s fastidious, obsessive-compulsive, blunt, shy, willing to wear a spacesuit around the house, but, despite Dancy’s sincerest efforts, not satisfyingly human. Part of the trouble is that Dancy - who is a Brit playing an American; Byrne is an Australian doing the same - has few true adult qualities. Here he’s a very cute, very moody elf. And Mayer seems to want us to pity him for it.

In a matter of scenes, Adam loses his job, draws police attention for loitering near a playground (he’s not a pedophile, but still), bangs his head against a mirror, asks Beth whether she’s hot for him, then explains that Asperger’s is to blame for his behavior. Not much later a co-worker at her school offers Beth the standard Asperger’s thumbnail: “It’s on the autism spectrum.’’ The co-worker doesn’t look into the camera when she says this, but I could feel her talking right down to me.

After some of this overwrought business, I had been looking forward to settling down and getting to know these characters. The movie had other plans. Eventually, developments with Beth’s well-to-do parents (Amy Irving plays her mother) take over (dad is facing prison time for corruption). Eventually, Beth is forced to choose between Adam and her father, which brings us to what I suspect this movie is really about. Is a man with Asperger’s boyfriend material? It’s difficult to determine how we wind up here, but it’s strange that a movie ostensibly about a man and his lack of social options left me depressed about a woman and hers.

Wesley Morris can be reached at For more on movies, go to

ADAM Written and directed by: Max Mayer

Starring: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Frankie Faison, and Amy Irving

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 99 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (thematic material, sexual content and language)

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