Romance can be risky, perplexing and filled with the perils of miscommunication - and that's if you aren't ADAM, for whom life itself is this way. Hugh Dancy stars as Adam, a handsome but intriguing young man who has all his life led a sheltered existence - until he meets his new neighbor, Beth, a beautiful, cosmopolitan young woman who pulls him into the outside world, with funny, touching and entirely unexpected results. Their implausible and enigmatic relationship reveals just how far two people from different realities can stretch in search of an extraordinary connection.

Romantic drama wrestles with its own disabilities.

What is it about guys with intellectual disabilities that so often attracts the interests of filmmakers, both A-listers and independents? On rare occasions, the outcome can be highly-charged drama, most notably with Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Writer-director Max Mayer’s Adam illustrates the pitfalls of this difficult-to-execute genre. From the outset, it’s hard to believe that gorgeous New York school teacher and aspiring children’s books writer Beth (Aussie Rose Byrne) would fall for her neighbour Adam (Brit Hugh Dancy).

Adam’s cute-looking but he is socially awkward, nay, inept, with a weird obsession with the universe. This guy is deeply troubled, which is obvious to everyone except Beth, even as he projects a planetarium on his walls and ceiling and takes her to watch raccoons in Central Park at midnight. Adam’s mourning the death of his father, he has only one friend in the world, kindly Harlan (Frankie Faison), an ex-Army buddy of his dad’s, and has never ventured beyond New York City.

Beth may have her doubts about Adam’s mannerisms but the penny doesn’t drop until he reveals he has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism which means he has trouble figuring out what others are thinking and feeling and doesn’t understand jokes or irony.

Their unlikely courtship progresses until Adam loses his job as an electronics engineer at a toy company; he gets mad when he discovers Beth engineered a 'surprise" meeting with her parents (Peter Gallagher, Amy Irving); and her accountant father winds up in court on charges of corporate malfeasance involving a family friend.

From here, what had been a reasonably affecting and engaging tale spins into cheap, highly contrived melodrama, although Mayer at least shows some courage by opting for a decidedly non-Hollywood ending.

The casting of a Brit and an Aussie as the mismatched New Yorkers isn’t unusual nowadays, and it works pretty well. Dancy (The Jane Austen Book Club, Confessions of a Shopaholic) is convincing as the despairing Adam, often avoiding eye contact as doubt and uncertainty flicker across his face as he struggles to express his feelings and 'read’ Beth’s reactions. Byrne, who’s building an impressive resume of roles in movies such as 28 Weeks Later and Knowing and TV’s Damages, invests her character with a lot of charm and warmth.

But the sub-plot revolving around her parents almost seems like it belongs in another movie and was tacked because Mayer needed to pad out his narrative on Beth and Adam’s up-and-down relationship.

The soundtrack is treacly, peppered with a number of annoyingly trite, schmaltzy songs. And I wish he hadn’t included a jarring scene where Beth offers Adam a box of chocolates and he refuses, declaring, 'I’m not Forrest Gump." That goes without saying.


1 hour 43 min
In Cinemas 20 August 2009,