Adam was one of the first films snapped up by a distributor at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is less a tribute to its aesthetic worth or creative daring than to its commercial sheen. Adam’s protagonist has Asperger syndrome, but the film is afflicted with a fatal case of the cutes: It’s never an encouraging sign when The Little Prince, that eternal touchstone of precious perma-children, emerges as a major motif for a romantic drama.
In a perfectly acceptable lead performance, Rose Byrne stars as a sensitive elementary-school teacher who strikes up an unlikely friendship with sweet, smart, but odd and disconnected neighbor Hugh Dancy. A technological whiz cast adrift after his father’s death, Dancy exists inside his own world—a highly logical, predictable realm of computers, astronomy, and comforting routine—until Byrne drags him reluctantly out of his comfort zone and into a disconcerting world of relationships, emotions, and other terrifying variables that can’t be reduced to mathematical formulae.
At the heart of Adam lies a thorny, intriguing question: What does it mean to love someone whose capacity to express and reciprocate affection is inherently limited by the way his mind operates? Yet Max Mayer’s writing and direction take this potentially fascinating subject matter in the most conventional direction possible, while Christopher Lennertz’s maudlin score telegraphs every sweeping emotion. Rather than maintaining a surgical focus on Byrne and Dancy’s tender, troubled central relationship, Mayer wastes screen time with a wildly extraneous, cutting-room-floor-ready subplot involving the legal travails and marital woes of Byrne’s disapproving father (Peter Gallagher, in full Peter Gallagher mode). Adam romanticizes Asperger syndrome, depicting Dancy as a saintly, emotionally transparent truth-teller too pure for a corrupt world. Dancy’s character has difficulty processing information and dealing with emotion, but even he could probably see through this schmaltz.