At the movies: “Adam”

August 17, 2009

HUGH DANCY

HUGH DANCY

There were eight other people in the audience when we saw “Adam” last night at the art theater in Montgomery. The film had been consigned to the least of the screening rooms — the one with broken seats, and undersized screen, a pile of cardboard boxes at the front of the house, and an odd odor that seemed best ignored. All signs were that there wasn’t much respect for the movie, which was a prize-winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The plot seems familiar. Ravishing young writer Beth Buchwald moves into a New York brownstone where her downstairs neighbor is Adam Raki, a technical wizard who has Asperger’s Syndrome — a form of autism. Incompetent in social situations, Adam — left on his own in the apartment after the recent death of his father — gingerly establishes a friendship with Beth, who becomes cautiously but increasingly interested in him — both in helping him improve his social skills and in sorting out their personal feelings for each other.

ROSE BYRNE

ROSE BYRNE

The subplot involves Beth’s doting parents — Rebecca and Marty Buchwald — who are more eager to meet Adam than he is to meet them. Marty is preoccupied the while with a pending indictment against him, the result, he says, of his attempt to help the daughter of a friend and business associate.

This would have been a predictable film if all it involved was a woman who is high-minded despite her beauty and can see the worth between the surface of a tortured psyche. But the script by Max Mayer, who also directs, doesn’t go for the obvious. Nothing is neat or certain about this story — not the nature of the feelings Adam and Rose have for each other, and not the hierarchy among the characters from “normal” to “disturbed.”

PETER GALLAGHER

PETER GALLAGHER

The delicate balance among these characters is maintained because of the excellent casting and strong performances. Mayer can hardly have found a better actor than Peter Gallagher, for instance, to portray the self-assured, bigger-than-life Marty Buchwald, or a better actress than Amy Irving to play the philosophical, self-possessed Rebecca.

In the leading roles of Adam and Beth, Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne create a fitful chemistry that alternately warms the heart and rattles the nerves. Both the development and the denouement of their relationship are unsentimental and credible.

FRANKIE FAISON

FRANKIE FAISON

A charming addition to the cast is Frankie Faison as Harlan, a longtime friend of Adam’s dad and a kind of Jiminy Cricket who instinctively knows how  to respond to Adam’s erratic temperament.

This film is a lesson in reserving judgment and weighing another person’s shortcomings only when taking into account one’s own imperfections and errors — not to mention one’s own deliberate transgressions.

“Adam” deserves better than the room at the back. And what is that smell, anyway?

An NPR interview with Max Mayer is at this link:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111732938

ROSE BYRNE and HUGH DANCY

ROSE BYRNE and HUGH DANCY

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