Two good young actors refuse to trivialize their story.


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            In a summer of mostly awful movies, look for “Adam,” a small independent film that is kept aloft by authenticity and charm. This is a love story that might have slipped into sentimentality but didn’t, thanks to the performances of two good young actors who refuse to trivialize their story.

            Adam (Hugh Dancy) has Asperger’s Syndrome and lives alone in the apartment he shared with his father who died recently. When Beth (Rose Byrne) moves to an apartment on the third floor, the two pass from friendship into love in a gentle and credible way.

            That’s it, the whole plot. Along the way we learn a lot about the difficulties that Asperger’s strews in its path. The condition, presented here as “a high functioning form of autism,” bestows on its victims an unfettered honesty and a literal interpretation of people and the world. Because they lack what some might call “social graces” and others a lack of pretense and artifice, they often stumble with people. Adam cannot read the moods or subtleties of interaction among people, which removes him as a player in the games that prevail in social competition. How do you curtail a man who, in answer to any question, pours forth the whole content of his mind on the subject at hand?

            On the other hand, he is a visionary electronics engineer with a passion for space and the computer that he puts to good use in his job. As Beth encourages him to come into the real world with her, Adam responds to people with his penetrating honesty and blows conversation of any kind right out of the water – especially when he meets her parents. As Beth’s mother, Amy Irving is warm yet wonderfully restrained. She is also the long suffering wife of a corporate puff piece under investigation for financial irregularities. When he meets Beth’s father (Peter Gallagher), Adam asks, “Are you going to jail?” And when shushed by Beth, Adam replies, “It seemed like the important thing.” Of course it is the important thing, and of course you can’t say it. Adam’s inability to recognize subtlety on any level is an extreme example of behavior that most of us take for granted. We have learned the skill of talking to people in code; we weigh their moods before we speak; we censor our words. There is an uncomfortable feeling that we might learn too much about ourselves if we were in a conversation with Adam.

            Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne build a lovely chemistry amid all the challenges. They are entirely credible as Adam and Beth. She knows he must compromise his purity in order to function in the world, he insists that she be as pure as he is. Stripping themselves of artifice as actors, Dancy and Byrne convey beautifully the vulnerability of Adam and Beth.

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