By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
Give credit to writer-director Max Mayer for finding a unique obstacle for lovers to leap in Adam, an otherwise conventional romantic dramedy. The title character has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an ailment referenced in only a handful of documentaries and indie films that barely reached theaters.
The nebulous nature of Asperger's makes it tough to know if Adam gets it right, except to viewers intimately familiar. Mayer describes it through Hugh Dancy's fine title performance as a type of autism, with severely limited social skills yet potential for vast knowledge of minutiae, like Adam's obsession with astronomy.
Adam speaks like Forrest Gump, occasionally disengaging from the reality of a moment like Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man. Pigeonholing Adam in those terms doesn't give proper credit to Mayer's obvious empathy with Asperger's sufferers, and Dancy's intricate ways to expressing more than merely odd tics.
Part of that springs from the film's other main character, who's relatively "normal" but also socially damaged. Beth (Rose Byrne) is spoiled and self-centered, always expecting someone else to pick up her slack. She takes advantage of Adam, huffing when he doesn't pick up her cues, before learning of his diagnosis. Once she knows, Beth softens too abruptly to believe but Dancy and Byrne's tentative chemistry pulls it off.
Yes, they'll learn life lessons and become better people. Somebody thinks that isn't enough to hang a movie on, so we get needless scenes of Beth's arrogant father (Peter Gallagher) on trial for corporate shenanigans. Stretches of Adam suggest a filmmaker kowtowing to studio whims, seeking a hook to sell tickets. It isn't found in such a fragile scenario, so any distraction from the couple's simple, sweet metamorphosis is a problem.
But the movie works thanks to Dancy's casually controlled portrayal of a man out of control, a condition that doesn't prevent his charm from shining through. I also appreciate Mayer's conclusion to the movie, one of the more honest denouements you'll find in an American movie romance. Adam doesn't transcend the genre like (500) Days of Summer but rises above other films usually starring prettier people.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.