“You are a part of me”
Right from the get-go, I knew that Adam was going to be an enjoyable, smartly told tale of love despite humanity’s predilection for preconceptions. Just the fact that the film was about a young man with Asperger Syndrome who meets a young girl across the hall of his apartment complex tells you that this won’t be your run-of-the-mill rom-com. You have to believe that filmmaker Max Mayer will treat the material with compassion and intelligence; this is not a laugh-out-loud vehicle to use a serious disorder as fodder for chuckles. Any trepidation I may have had was gone after about five minutes, just the amount of time it took to introduce me to our titular character, a span that teaches us so much. A 29-year-old man who has lived with his father in NYC his entire life has just lost the one person who understood him and helped him survive. The vacant stare and inability to show emotion at the funeral is interspersed with the methodical routines of his day. We see the chore sheet for which he must cross off his late duty partner, we see the carefully hung clothing, the boxes of cereal and macaroni and cheese, and we slowly watch it all dwindle away as life alone is just too much to handle so soon. I knew then that the rest of the way would never speak down to me or turn the drama into farce.
While the story of Adam and his neighbor Beth’s, the ever-wonderful Rose Byrne, relationship is at the center, there is so much more on the periphery. All the supporting roles have some real weight and story to them, no one is just a pawn to move and advance the plot. Beth’s parents, two good turns from stalwarts Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving, have a subplot that intrigues, mirrors the emotional turmoil of their daughter, (Adam’s voiceover spliced with scenes from Gallagher’s trial is not a coincidence), and could exist on its own. And then there is Frankie Faison’s Harlan, a family friend always there, looking over this troubled boy. His motivations may never be spelled out, but we know where his heart is. With only a few scenes, and fewer words, his presence is crucial to the film as a whole. But, in the end, the film is called Adam for a reason.
One always worries about an actor taking on the task of a mentally disabled role. Sometimes it works, (Rain Man), and sometimes it fails miserably, (I Am Sam) … maybe Kirk Lazarus was right, “you never go full retard”. But I digress, Hugh Dancy is one of the brightest actors working today, in my opinion, and he knocks this one out of the park. There are moments that linger on his face as his brain works through what has just happened, slowly coming to the realization of what it all means. The expressions are pitch perfect and his portrayal never appears as caricature. With sharp transitions to voracious anger from meek sweetness, the turbulence caught inside of him shows through in those moments that he cannot control himself. As Dancy’s Adam states, in a somewhat clunky explanation of the disorder, his condition makes it difficult for him to lie. That mechanism we all possess—and love—to tell the odd white lie and appease those in our company rather than rile them up is absent from him. He speaks the truth, and in return, expects the truth back. Understanding this concept can be tough as a lie is a lie; even if the intentions were pure, the difference can’t be seen.
His explosions never escalate to violence towards anyone but himself, although the scene can be scary. More a tantrum than anything else, the emotions inside him are released without control. Words are spoken in a very pragmatic and objective way, something that could be misunderstood, or not, they are his true feelings at the moment after all. **spoilers begin** Because of this, I saw the ending as profound due to the duality in Adam’s response to Beth’s question on why he wanted her to go with him to California. It starts out as though he will win her heart—by a truth so sweet and romantic—with the words that title this review, but then it all goes sour. His brain sees the question as one that has a correct answer, and that answer is that he needs her to survive. He needs a normal person to help him in the day to day routine, to be his sort of translator to the world. The hard part to witnessing his response is the not knowing what he means by it. Is a person with Aspergers unable to love? Is love to them safety and companionship? Or was his answer his brain’s way of saying that she completes him? That she is his world? Love is such an abstract concept that whether he feels it or not, he could never truly express it in words. And that is the true tragedy of life. **spoilers end**
Much like another slightly off-kilter romantic comedy this summer, (500) Days of Summer, the ending may be a happy one, just not quite the anticipated “happily ever after” Hollywood has ingrained in our heads. Adam takes all the conventions of the genre and utilizes them to fit the story, not the other way around. The film takes what it needs to be palatable to a broad audience, but never forgets the agenda at its core. For all the quirks and idiosyncrasies involved, they aren’t there to be “fresh” or “cool,” they are present because the lead character has them. More than a romance, Adam is about a broken man finding his way in life. A lifetime co-dependent realizing that there is a world out there he can become a part of if he has the strength to work at it and try. Beth is the catalyst for his awakening, and he hers too. She finds out that there are people out there who are innocent and sweet; that humanity isn’t complete rubbish. Sometimes we meet the person for which we will spend the rest of our lives with in bliss, and other times, first, we must meet someone to remind us that the happily ever after is still possible.
Adam 7/10 | ★ ★ ★
 L-R: Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy Photo Credit: Julia Griner
 L-R: Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving. Photo Credit: Julia Griner