Starring: Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, and Amy Irving. Directed by Max Mayer.
Rated M (Coarse language). 99 min.
This is a dramatic and thoughtful romantic comedy about the growth of a love relationship between a school teacher and quirky author-to-be, Beth Buchwald (Australia’s Rose Byrne), and a shy and obsessive but brilliant engineer, Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy), who is suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. People, with Asperger’s experience difficulties in their social interaction with others, engage in highly repetitive patterns of behaviour, and are often unusually intense or focused, but able to maintain special skills; and they nearly always present problems in normal communication. Adam manifests all of these characteristics, and they represent a considerable challenge to any serious actor. The film is the second movie on Asperger’s to be released in Australia in the last six months, the first one being “Mary & Max”, which was an animated movie of very special quality.
The movie commences with the funeral of Adam’s father. Depressed, Adam returns to his Manhattan apartment, and he forms an attachment to Beth, who moves into the same building. Adam doesn’t understand what people are thinking, and his ability to form safe relationships with others is very limited. Beth is suffering the pain of a broken relationship with an unfaithful boyfriend, and she moves into her apartment to get on with life and to forget past attachments. She is first perplexed by Adam, but finds herself slowly becoming attracted to him. He shows her how much he cares for a family of racoons at night in Central Park, Manhattan, and he demonstrates his brilliance by showing her a planetarium that he has set up in his apartment. Beth in her own way is unusual; Adam is unusual too for different reasons; and they are attracted to each other. They both know that any relationship between them will be fraught with difficulties.
Hugh Dancy’s performance as Adam in this demanding role is outstanding. He hardly misses a beat in authenticity, and he makes the role of Adam believable and very touching. His character portrayal points quietly to the enormous complexities of his
relationship to Beth. What is demanded of him is a whole new set of social skills, and Beth finds difficulty in accommodating her life to someone quite like Adam. The acting of both Dancy and Byrne is assured and sensitive; and the interactions between them on screen are natural and convincing. Their engagement with each other is especially meaningful, as the attraction between them is built on mutual honesty, despite lapses of understanding by them both.
Manhattan provides a marvellous backdrop to the story and the film is wonderfully photographed by Seamus Tierney, with music that matches its mood by Christopher Lennertz. The scripting of the movie delivers nuances rather than heavy blows, yet the film conveys its messages tautly. There are some side themes that distract a little in the movie. Beth’s father (Peter Gallagher) has stereotyped attitudes, and these are obviously meant to illustrate what those with Asperger’s have to cope with, and there are problematic features of the relationship between Beth’s father and mother (Amy Irving). However, the nature of the parents’ marriage sets the stage for a dramatic ending, which conveys unexpectedly a surprising note of realism. At a critical time, Adam can’t express what he really feels for Beth, and Beth seriously misunderstands what he wants to say. There is a distinction between “being loved” and “the necessity of loving” that has to be made, and neither of them is capable of understanding where that difference lies.
Overall, this is an absorbing, enjoyable and tender movie that is directed very intelligently. It conveys sound morals about finding genuine love, forming good relationships, and facing the challenges of life that arise unpredictably from trying to humanly cope.
Twentieth-Century Fox. Out August 20, 2009.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.