Near the end of Adam the titular character (Hugh Dancy) says, “I’m not Forrest Gump you know.” True enough. Adam may have Asperger’s Syndrome, but director / screenwriter Max Mayer has avoided most of the sentimental pitfalls that make the Tom Hanks movie an exercise in how not to make a movie about someone who is not “neurotypical.” Most, but not all.
The story begins just as Adam’s father has passed away. His lonely life of routine—he eats the same thing everyday and has a phobia of change—is shaken when a pretty young woman named Beth (Rose Byrne) becomes his upstairs neighbor. The two begin a romance, even though Adam, because of his Asperger’s Syndrome, is unable to express his feelings. Nonetheless they create a connection; a fragile bond that stressed by her family and his job woes.
Adam had the potential to be a maudlin movie about a doomed romance but instead is a smart story about obstacles that get in the way of fulfilling relationships. To convincingly drive the story home Mayer has cast two very appealing actors in the lead roles.
Dancy has the showier part, but where he could have played Adam as simply deadpan he instead manages to bring the character to life, taking a role that could have been a collection of obsessions and awkward social interactions and molding it into a real character the audience cares about.
Dancy may have the flashier role, but Byrne brings heart to the film. Her take on Beth is simple and sweet. In a raw, but understated performance she plays a woman who is searching for truth in her life. After a complicated romantic relationship and difficulties with her father she finds Adam’s honesty—it’s a trait of his Asperger’s—refreshing. His bluntness can be difficult at times, but one of the pleasures of the movie is watching the way she learns to communicate with Adam, becoming skilled at saying exactly what she means with no room for interpretation. It’s a complicated dance between the two, but one that is played for real and with little sentimentality.
Little sentiment, that is, until the end. Mayer breaks some of the rules of the usual made in Manhattan romantic film, but chooses to close with a sequence that undermines the tone established in the rest of the film. It’s not a deal breaker, the rest of the movie is too good to be ruined by a schmaltzy ending, but I would have preferred a coda that was more in line with the film’s first ninety minutes.