I Take on ADAM, and Lose


I’m glad I hadn’t seen the trailer for ADAM, which just won this year’s Sloan prize, before seeing the film this morning. Not that I have since watched the trailer—if one even exists—but I can just imagine what impression it leaves:

Awkward twenty-something nerd lives with his dad. Dad dies. Row of identical mac-n-cheese dinners in freezer begins to dwindle, signifying the passage of time (and nerd’s loneliness). Schoolteacher, recently burned by successful man, moves into building and meets nerd in laundry room, finds him cute. Nerd is confused because—oh!—he has Asperger Syndrome. So nerd shows schoolteacher the stars—literally. Schoolteacher knows nothing about stars, but falls for nerd because of the way he talks about stars…

Cringing yet? I would be—and not just because I’ve already seen another film about Asperger’s at Sundance this year. It was inevitable, wasn’t it, that someone would take the quirky indie romanti-comedy (think ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW) to this extreme? Pairing a wounded schoolteacher with a young man with Asperger’s provides endless opportunities for unfortunate misunderstandings, “pregnant” pauses, and of course suffering and ecstasy.

And yet, and yet, writer-director Max Mayer somehow pulls it off. I’m not even sure how. It helps that he’s written an understated, pitch-perfect script that takes several unexpected turns, and that the acting is superb. I’ve never met anyone with Asperger’s, but Hugh Dancy, who plays Adam, was utterly convincing—as was Rose Byrne, playing the schoolteacher, whose talent and beauty suggest she won’t be a strictly indie actress for long. Even still, I can’t quite figure out why ADAM works.

And when I say “works,” what I really mean is that ADAM is the first film I’ve seen at Sundance that actually hit me in the chest. Maybe it was because I’m emotionally vulnerable in the morning—don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about—but several times during the film I got a little choked up. Almost cried, even.

Okay, maybe I did cry. Damn you.