This has been a surprising summer for a number of reasons, one of which is how dreadfully dull most of the big popcorn films have been. The other is the extraordinary ability of a handful of tiny, independent films to redeem the season utterly. These films, from Away We Go, (500) Days of Summer and now Adam, are the antidote to the summer blight, delivering smart, hilarious, moving and cosmically life-affirming stories.
For the first time in his life, Adam (Hugh Dancy) is alone. With the recent passing of his father, the sweet-natured, 30-something Adam, who suffers from a developmental disorder called Asperger's syndrome—a form of autism that, among other things, severally hampers social interaction—suddenly realizes that his well-ordered life comes with an expiration date.
Though he frequently shuns human contact and escapes into his own world—one dominated by the knotty conundrums of astrophysics (there is a particularly nice bit with a space suit)—Adam finds himself unusually drawn to his new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne).
The cosmopolitan Beth is everything the sheltered Adam is not, and at first she is unsure how to react to Adam's stilted, clumsy and sometimes inappropriate overtures. But Beth sees something in Adam she has never found in any man before, and she allows herself—perhaps against her better judgment and most certainly against that of her caring but apprehensive parents (Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving)—to fall in love with the unconventional boy next door, drawing him out of his shell and changing both their lives forever.
Navigating the treacherous waters of romance is difficult enough in the most optimum conditions, let alone in a relationship beset by embarrassing social skills, an inability for emotional empathy, the hazards of miscommunication and, at times, even dangerous unpredictability. Adam cannot fathom basic trivialities but paradoxically can unravel great complexities. He is, in many ways, a child in a grown-up's body, unable to function properly in an adult world because he lacks the prerequisite skills necessary to grasp the complicated nuances of adult interaction. He is without guile, incapable even of comprehending sarcasm or irony. Like his namesake in the garden before the Fall, he does not possess the knowledge of good and evil. Adam does not know how to be deceptive; he lacks the cognitive reasoning required for duplicity.
But Adam and Beth are proof—cinematic proof anyway—that with a lot of patience and understanding, even something that appears doomed from the start can blossom into something meaningful and extraordinary. One of the things that makes Adam so special is that it in no way tries to duck the incredible obstacles to intimacy that its two leads face, nor the enormous lengths to which two people in their position must go to make so implausible a connection. And the end, which will surprise some but not others, is honest in a way that a film dealing with autism must be.