I’m positive there’s a finer way to showcase the nuances of Asperger’s Syndrome than anything the new film “Adam” manages to come up with. While respectful to the disorder, the picture is nonetheless disinterested in anything that would enliven the experience beyond the severely clichéd or overacted. It’s a gentle romantic dramedy, but misfires at every turn, making for a tedious motion picture that minimizes a fascinating subject.
Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne) has moved into a New York City apartment building, soon meeting a quiet man named Adam (Hugh Dancy) who piques her curiosity. As the two make tentative romantic moves toward each other, Beth learns of Adam’s battle with Asperger’s Syndrome, which keeps him socially distant, yet emotionally blunt. Finding Adam tiring, but utterly sweet, Beth embarks on a relationship with the fragile man, hoping for the strength to deal with his multitude of problems. With her father (Peter Gallagher) facing legal troubles and Adam crumbling after losing his father and job within a short time span, Beth comes to realize that while kind, Adam’s mania might be too much for her to deal with.
“Adam” aims to be sweet, treating the sensitive subject of Asperger’s Syndrome with kid gloves so as not to offend anyone gracious enough to spend time with the film. It’s a valid attempt on writer/director Max Mayer’s part to convey the psychological toll of the disorder, and how its frenzy and tireless insistence can cause great distress. However, his method of approach is in the guise of a romantic comedy, scripting a relationship story for Beth and Adam as they not only play the game of love, but one of patience.
To watch “Adam” reach out and attempt to engage the audience through overtly expressive characters and personal tragedies is interesting for the first 15 minutes. Inventing a hermetically sealed world of order for Adam, only to be sliced open by Beth’s fixation, creates a plausible tension within the script. The mystery doesn’t last for long. “Adam” quickly goes from a quirky jaunt to a get-me-outta-here disaster by the second act, where Mayer hunts for a way to bond these characters together, yet has little interest in challenging the story beyond Lifetime Channel dramatic developments. There’s a wellspring of depth in the Beth character, who pretty much uses Adam to fill her own selfish emotional void -- she invents love to keep huffing the fumes of newfound attraction. Yet Mayer doesn’t go within striking distance of the conflict, instead pushing his cast to vibrate wildly for Oscar gold, or keep Byrne glassy-eyed for maximum sympathy.
Adding to the disinterest are Byrne and Dancy, who spend most of the film trying to swallow their natural accents to portray a pair of average Americans. The suppression only causes their acting to grow unwieldy and unnatural, or even downright embarrassing in the case of Dancy and his opportunity to convey the explosive capacity of Asperger’s. It doesn’t take long for “Adam” to start reaching out for hugs in a sickly, cloying manner that almost reduces Asperger’s to a nagging inconsideration instead of a three-dimensional affliction with real consequences, not just melodramatic highs and lows to suit an unbearable script.