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Australia 2009
Directed by
Max Mayer
97 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a lonely 29-year-old electronics engineer who suffers Asperger's Syndrome. Following the death of his father, Adam meets neighbour and schoolteacher, Beth (Rose Byrne), and strikes up a friendship which eventually turns to romance. Adam’s strikingly blunt honesty makes relating a challenge for both and this is complicated by Beth’s parents’ disapproval of her new boyfriend.

Asperger’s Syndrome must be the disease of the year, coming as it does on the heels of Adam Elliot’s highly acclaimed Mary And Max. Mayer’s more mainstream film is not as imaginative and fresh a story as Elliot’s masterpiece, but nevertheless it is an engaging and very sweet tale of two people trying to understand each other, one reaching out from her self-centredness and the other expanding his very constrained and confined universe. For anyone wanting to better understand Asperger's, this is a good film for a compassionate insight into the affliction (those interested might also like to check out Jennifer Venditti’s 2008 documentary, Billy The Kid).

We quickly realise something is very deficient in Adam’s emotional realm when he shows little sadness over the death of his father – simply crossing out the list of Dad’s chores on the fridge. His obsessive orderliness reflects in the neatly arranged boxes of macaroni cheese in the freezer. When he meets Beth and she is lugging a huge shopping jeep up the stairs he doesn’t offer to help. The only time his conversation is fluid and animated is when he is lecturing people on space, telescopes and scientific matters, his area of expertise and familiarity. When it comes to basic “guy talk” or asking women out he is all at sea, but family friend Harlan (Frankie Faison) is there to coach him.  Like Harlan, Beth also becomes a support and coach to Adam, especially in helping him learn social niceties and how to respond to other people’s emotions.

The film is often not-so-subtly didactic – explaining Asperger's by techniques such as having Adam expounding to Beth that “Aspies” are unable to read other people’s emotional cues but are focussed, imaginative and really honest. Nevertheless in the many scenes where we see Adam’s dysfunction play out, the situations are actually very touching. For example, when Beth is crying and Adam says “I see you are upset but don’t know what to do” she responds “You could give me a hug”. But it is not until she explicitly says “Please give me a hug” that he knows what to do.

The sub-plot of Beth’s dad (John Gallagher) being an accountant in trouble with the law, and Beth’s mum (Amy Irving) being staunchly supportive of her husband, is in a way a bit of a distraction to the main plot, but it does give the chance for us to see Adam’s social ineptitude in a different context as he quizzes the father on possible jail sentences, much to Beth’s horror.

Adam was nominated for a Grand Jury prize at Sundance and perhaps this is due not so much to the script as to the wonderful chemistry and rapport between the main leads. Byrne, who I’ve always liked but who at times can be miscast and come across as bland is at her very best here, while Dancy is a wonderfully sympathetic mix of well-informed intelligence and naïve child-man. There are many quite magic moments and to the director’s credit, the ending avoids a neat Hollywood-style wrap-up.

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