By Fred Topel | Image property of Columbia Pictures
In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit that I was late to the screening of Adam. Totally my own fault, these things happen. I got there when Beth (Rose Byrne) was complaining to her dad (Peter Gallagher) about being an only child and her ex-boyfriend who he likes was a douche. Perhaps something happened before that scene to set up the world of the film. I don’t know. I’ll never know. From what I saw, Adam left a really bad taste in my mouth.
Adam (Hugh Dancy) has Asperger’s syndrome. The movie is about his struggles to find normalcy and a relationship with Beth. I just felt the whole movie was at his expense, the usual Hollywood feeling good about itself by portraying the struggles of such a man. It seemed like nobody involved ad any idea what Asperger’s was really like. For all I know, the writer/director was intimately involved with the condition. I’ll certainly look that up before I do any interviews, but just from watching the movie it felt totally insensitive and trite.
They create situations that will play up Adam’s inability to function socially. Meathead cops can’t tell he’s “special” so they put him through the paces and manhandle him. A lawyer goes on and on about what he should do with his estate because he takes it upon himself to briskly solve all of Adam’s problems that require sensitive handling.
Now, I’ll give the film that real people, NTs, don’t observe situations. They’re worse than anyone at reading anybody else’s feelings and adapting to the needs of a conversation. It’s still miserable to watch. I’d like to see a film show how we can help people with special needs, not make their lives harder.
The film really wants to show how cute Aspys are. They contrive whimsical stunts for Adam to pull, but really someone should stop him. It’s dangerous for him to be hanging out the window. That’s not cute. The film’s double entendres are not cute either. They play a scene like it’s supposed to mean sex but it really means he’s prepping for an interview. I knew that’s what he meant. It’s no great reveal, and it’s not funny either.
Beth seems a good match for him. She has the patience to clarify things for Adam, but it’s hard for her when he doesn’t follow the social lead of her friends. That’s played for laughs though. Here this poor guy is just trying to hold his own socially, and the film thinks it’s funny that he’s rambling about telescopes when some socialite doesn’t care. Oh well, at least he gets some.
Then here comes act three. They have to fight about something. Dancy gets to show off getting angry when Adam can’t handle confrontations. That’s not sensitive. It’s showing off for the Oscar clip.
Adam has a wise old friend with all the answers. That’s too simple whether they want credit for Asperger’s or for relationships at all. He’s not wrong, but it’s ham handed to just have him show up and deliver the answers. This guy should help his friend day to day so that he’s not involved in these major moments. But no, he’s just a good enough friend to pop in when there’s an act break.
Adam makes a big step so it’s his journey. It ends in a quest to say the exact right words for Beth when it’s so clear what he means. It sells out Beth too because she’s smart enough to know what Adam’s really saying even though his mind processes the bare bones logic of it all.
I’d be happy if there’s something in the first 15 minutes that totally undoes all of my frustrations with Adam. I just can’t imagine there’d be anything that makes all of the above suddenly sensitive and respectable. Right now, I feel like Boston Legal was more sensitive to Asperger’s syndrome, and that was mighty outrageous. I don’t’ believe that was real Asperger’s, but it was much more sensitive to poor Jerry than Adam is to its title character.