Film Review: Director's deft touch keeps viewers rooting young lovers in 'Adam'

Beth (Rose Byrne)  and Adam (Hugh Dancy) are a thoroughly charming couple in 'Adam,' which is at the Malco Ridgeway Four.

Photo by Julia Griner/Fox Seachlight

Beth (Rose Byrne) and Adam (Hugh Dancy) are a thoroughly charming couple in "Adam," which is at the Malco Ridgeway Four.

Winsome New York schoolteacher falls for socially inept but cute guy with a developmental disorder known as Asperger's syndrome.

Beth (Rose Byrne)  and Adam (Hugh Dancy) are a thoroughly charming couple in 'Adam,' which is at the Malco Ridgeway Four.

Photo by Julia Griner/Fox Seachlight

Beth (Rose Byrne) and Adam (Hugh Dancy) are a thoroughly charming couple in "Adam," which is at the Malco Ridgeway Four.

In movies, when two twentysomethings serendipitously wind up under the same Manhattan roof, witty repartee usually transpires, then sparks fly, and eventually they fall into ...

Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, sexual content and language

Length: 99 minutes

Released: July 29, 2009 Limited

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

Director: Max Mayer

Writer: Max Mayer

More info and showtimes »

That's a premise to make one shudder, because even movies with honorable intentions have a tendency to treat "mentally challenged" individuals with condescension. But "Adam" pretty much avoids the pitfalls of tastelessness and sentimentalization that could have resulted in "Forrest Gump Falls in Love." Instead, writer-director Max Mayer has produced a fairly charming romance with an unpredictable ending. (Does the non-rousing conclusion explain why "Adam" -- a movie that should appeal to the young moviegoers who have made "(500) Days of Summer" a hit -- is opening in Memphis only at the Malco Ridgeway Four, as if it were a limited-appeal "art" film?)

Mayer -- who has directed only one previous feature, "Better Living," a forgotten 1998 dysfunctional-family comedy with Olympia Dukakis -- is helped immeasurably by his leads. Previously presented as a romantic hero in "Confessions of a Shopaholic," Hugh Dancy is Adam, a toy-company computer wizard with a fascination for astronomy. ("There are new images of Saturn from the Cassini Project," is a typical Adam rejoinder.) Rose Byrne is new neighbor Beth, an "NT" -- "neuro-typical" -- who is puzzled by Adam's oddness and social ineptitude until she learns he has a form of "high-functioning autism" known as Asperger's syndrome.

Although there are some unlikely "cute" moments (Adam dons an astronaut's uniform to dangle outside Beth's window), Adam and Beth are remarkably nice, likable characters, played by Dancy and Byrne without the tics and self-consciousness that more pretentious or perhaps less secure performers might have brought to the roles. Dancy and Byrne seem to be behaving, not acting. The viewer never stops rooting for these young lovers, even when the film drags during its final act.

Another plus: 65 minutes pass before the first mood-establishing pop song is heard on the soundtrack. Such rare (for 2009) restraint is indicative of Mayer's delicate approach.

-- John Beifuss, 529-2394

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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