Hollywood seems to have a love/hate relationship with disability. It's often joked about that playing a disabled character can be a shortcut to the Oscar podium, but its very rare to see the disabled properly represented on screen – particularly those with a mental disability.
And Adam is no exception. It stars Rose Byrne as Beth, a school teacher who moves into a New York apartment building and strikes up a friendship – that eventually blossoms into romance – with her downstairs neighbour, Adam (Dancy). The only problem is that Adam suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, and is learning to live life on his own after the recent death of his father. Now the problem, of course, is that film and television never quite gets the depiction of Asperger's right, which is pretty difficult to do when the condition itself isn't fully understood by the medical profession. The TV series Boston Legal came close with the character of Jerry Espenson (Christian Clemenson), a lawyer with Asperger's. Dancy gives a fine, restrained performance here without resorting to the exagerted tics and mannerisms that Dustin Hoffman brought to Rainman. But it doesn't always ring true, especially in the scenes where Adam and Beth become physically intimate – one of the symptoms of autism, and Asperger's, is that they don't like to be touched.
Adam is a fine first effort from writer/director. It's a warm, funny and watchable film (although being marketed as a "rom-com" does seem a bit of a mistake). There's lots of chemistry between Dancy and the lovely Byrne – they genuinely make a lovely couple – and I'm always a sucker for a film that's shot in New York. It's a visually rich and gorgeous film, and the soundtrack is perfect. But the subplot involving Beth's accountant father (Gallagher) seems a little cliched and tacked-on, and ultimately the film leaves you feeling unsatisfied and a little cheated. Even though none of us really knows all that much about Asperger's, it just seems that the filmmakers haven't really done their homework properly. Hollywood still doesn't really know how to deal with mental illness.