Well, you know what they say about the path paved with good intentions, and this particular thoroughfare leads us to “Adam,” a movie that wants you to know that people with Asperger’s Syndrome are human beings who deserve love just as much as anyone else does.
If you walk into the theater already armed with this knowledge, however, the film has little else to offer.
Hugh Dancy stars as Adam, a brilliant Asperger’s sufferer who has spent his entire life living in the same apartment under the supervision of his father, who dies as the film begins. Left with no one in his life but his dad’s old friend (Frankie Faison, saddled with the thankless helpful-man-of-color role), Adam starts getting chummy with Beth (Rose Byrne), a schoolteacher and would-be children’s book author who moves into the building.
She initially finds Adam to be a little shy and quirky, but when he bluntly asks her if their midnight trip to Central Park to watch the raccoons made her sexually excited, she’s put off enough that he has to explain his condition to her. Even understanding the parameters of Asperger’s — sufferers tend to lack empathy and have difficulty understanding humor or non-verbal cues, generally leading to profound social awkwardness — Beth pursues a relationship with Adam, even taking things to a physical level.
They’ve each got their own separate issues to deal with: Adam just got fired from his job engineering toys — he’s a science whiz with a particular interest in astronomy — while Beth worries about the possibility of her financier father (Peter Gallagher) going to prison because of some shady business dealings.
Writer-director Max Mayer never manages to bring any of these plot contrivances or secondary characters to life, despite a stellar supporting cast that includes not only Faison and Gallagher but also Amy Irving, Haviland Morris and Mark Linn-Baker.
The best that can be said for Dancy and Byrne is that both deliver such convincing American accents that you’d never guess that he’s British and she’s Australian. Dancy gives the kind of obvious and externalized performance that an actor friend of mine calls “Indication Theater”; don’t be surprised if the dull children at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences fall over themselves to praise his work.
Byrne seems singularly ill at ease throughout, never clicking with her co-stars or succeeding at making Beth anything but a straw man through which the audience is supposed to learn important lessons about humanity.
Given the challenges involved in having an intimate relationship with someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a love story on that subject certainly has the potential to be both moving and eye-opening. But “Adam” isn’t that story; it’s merely a Very Special Episode of a TV series I never wanted to watch.