Thursday, August 27, 2009

A clumsy encounter

A decent love story overwritten into obscurity

Posted on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 4:00 AM

**
Adam
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Amy Irving, Frankie Faison, Mark Linn-Baker
Director: Max Mayer
WorkNameSort: Adam
Our Rating: 2.00

It might be impolitic to point out, but Adam, a sickly-sweet, self-important trifle about a victim of Asperger Syndrome (Hugh Dancy as the titular character) and the woman who loves him ' his juvenile downstairs neighbor played by Rose Byrne ' possesses the ability to make the audience feel as if they, too, suffer from Asperger.

Those afflicted by the social disorder ' described in the film as being 'on the autism spectrumâ?� ' cannot register human interaction the same way NTs (neuro-typicals, as in those without the disease) do. They tend to take things ultra-literally and live their lives with the dial set permanently on monotone. If someone makes a joke, AS victims often have to clarify: 'Are you making a joke?â?� Debut writer-director Max Mayer often makes us beg the same question, not because he walks the delicate line of tragicomedy, but because Mayer is so embarrassingly in love with his own dialogue that it dresses everything in a gauche pitifulness.

Byrne plays Manhattanite Beth Buchwald, a sheltered beauty with an itch to slum it a little in the face of her father's (a predictably villainous Peter Gallagher) upwardly mobile pressure. Lucky for her, living upstairs is Adam, who has recently lost his father and his job. Oh, and he has AS, of course. They quickly develop affection for each other within their cocoon of pretension. The stresses of living in an expensive apartment and Beth's father's impending trial for accounting trickery weigh on them, however, and they're forced to assess the reality of their situation.

Dancy and Byrne do a fine job of portraying these two lost souls, and their body language and comfort with each other is effortless and winning. How unfortunate for them that they're forced to spout miles of Mayer's cutesy babble every time they're close to transcendence. At one such cringe-worthy moment, Beth hands Adam a box of chocolates and for just a brief second, you can actually register Dancy's hesitance to complete the stupid joke: 'I'm not Forrest Gump, you know!â?� he clunks. There isn't a single conversation that Mayer's pen doesn't threaten to ruin. The worst of it is handed to poor Amy Irving (whose entire career has been made up of thankless jobs), forced to utter faux old-money utterances like, 'Love, my beautiful girl, is all that matters.â?� I'm paraphrasing, but not much.

Mayer's eye fares better. His New York is appropriately dreamy and romantic and he has a strong handle on intimacy. He simply needs to open his ears more often and let his characters do the talking for him.

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