Formulaic Adam Offers Few Surprises
- Friday, August 28, 2009
DVD Release Date: February 2, 1010
Theatrical Release Date: July 29, 2009 (limited); August 28, 2009 (wide)
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, sexual content and language.)
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
Run Time: 99 min.
Director: Max Mayer
Actors: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving, Frankie Faison
When an end-credit roll is met with small gasps and peeved reactions like, "What? That's it? Are you kidding me?!", it's not a good sign. That's bound to happen, though, when a movie waits until the very end to pull the rug right out from under you—and that's exactly what the new indie-romance Adam does.
Formulaic to a fault, the entire narrative trajectory of Adam is clearly headed in one direction. It over-dramatizes milquetoast conflicts while offering up almost zero surprises en route to a predictable conclusion. Well, until a complete U-turn at the end. When a filmmaker so clearly sets-up viewers to expect one thing but then gives them the exact opposite and (most rudely) leaves that with them, well, it's not clever or insightful. It's just plain stupid.
The saddest irony is that writer/director Max Mayer has conceived a premise intrinsically built to avoid such pitfalls (yet he falls into every one of them). It's the story of Adam Raki, an awkward yet intelligent young New Yorker who suffers from a mild form of autism known as Asperger's Syndrome. This developmental disorder greatly diminishes perception and intuition, creating severe difficulties when trying to interact socially. It's as if being tactless were a disease … which, in this case, it basically is.
To explore that in the context of falling in love is a brilliant little notion, especially when it's the guy who suffers from Asperger's. It opens the door to a variety of intriguing relational conflicts and possible narrative directions; more importantly, it serves as a metaphor to examine how men—generally speaking—have difficulty perceiving and intuiting women's thoughts and feelings. Indeed, it's in those metaphorical parallels that the film has its moments, mostly hilarious.
Unfortunately they're just moments, and only occasional at that. The bulk of the story Mayer conceives here is otherwise severely (even surprisingly) uninspired as it follows a very traditional romantic arc between Adam and Beth (a new neighbor in Adam's apartment complex) that begins with meet-cute and, from there, hastens the progression of the relationship more out of obligation than believability. It's not the light and humorous tone I object to, it's just that Mayer makes it all too easy.
Whatever initial—and understandable—concerns Beth may have about committing to an emotionally-stunted man (especially after coming right out of a bitter breakup herself), she casually forgets them in rather short order, and before you know it they're a couple. The fact that Adam is by nature the exact opposite kind of person you'd find yourself emotionally swept up in makes the quick progression feel all the more forced. This leads to the film's most egregious over-compensation: Adam's damaged puppy-dog persona.
This base characterization is a lazy way to endear both Beth and the audience to Adam and his sociological burden, and at worst I'd say it's a bit of an insult to anyone with Asperger's. Either way, there needs to be a more credible reason for love to bloom than wanting to rescue the poor guy.
Yes, it makes sense that Adam would be emotionally-scarred; wouldn't you be if your innocent nature was occasionally deemed offensive to people you're trying to engage with? On the other hand, how does one who lacks emotional cognition interpret such offenses taken, if at all? This film offers no clarity to these questions or any true understanding of what it's like to experience Asperger's. Instead, it resorts to moments played for laughs or wounds at Adam's fragile expense.
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