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Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Max Mayer's Adam combines the sweet and the real, yielding a subtle, but successful romantic comedy. Hugh Dancy stars as the Asperger's-stricken Adam, an awkward electronics engineer with few friends and even fewer romantic prospects. Rose Byrne plays opposite him, as his intimidatingly pretty, but kind-hearted neighbor, Beth.
This movie's ability to portray the fumbling nervousness associated with young infatuation between two slightly socially-awkward human beings is this movie's heart. Adam's social ills are obvious. Asperger's syndrome causes glaring obsessive-compulsive-like behavior in the title character. He rambles and rattles on about "nerdy" subjects that his audience seldom cares about and almost never comprehends. He is obsessed with space, the cosmos, and the origins of the universe. His fascination with scientific discovery and knowledge of astronomy and quantum mechanics gets balanced out by an equally obsessive love of the theater.

Beth, though not as blatantly challenged socially, reveals her own insecurities throughout the film. As an only child, she shares with her father in one scene that she feels "emotionally retarded" and inter-personally underdeveloped. (As an only child myself, I can certainly relate.) Adam's innocent fondness for Beth intrigues her, as her previous relationships have ended in heartbreak. The film opens with Beth reminiscing about a children's story she had read when she was little. It's about a prince from outer space. His weirdness, his awkwardness, and his love of the stars suggest that Adam is indeed that prince from outer space.

What sets this film apart from other romantic comedies is its adherence to the dying notion that a relationship isn't about being loved, but is about loving. Through their brief, but life-changing relationship, both Adam and Beth are deeply moved. Beth, as the slightly more advanced counterpart in the relationship finally realizes that central truth; that Love (yes, Love with a capital "L") isn't about receiving love for herself. It's about loving the other. It's about meeting a prince from another planet and finding a way, not only to appreciate him in spite of his weirdness and faults and flaws, but to truly sacrificially care for and cherish his whole being.

**WARNING: The following paragraphs may contain SPOILERS**

In the movie, Beth's mother, bearing the brunt of an adulterous affair, chooses to continue loving her husband in spite of his unworthiness. She chooses to love him in the middle of a world that promotes the idea that love must be earned. Likewise, Beth chooses to love Adam, despite his unworthiness.

At the end of the film, she readies herself to sacrifice all for him. Adam, not fully grasping this sacrificial concept of love, insists she must follow him to California because he "needs her." He can't tell her he loves her. He can't ask her to come with him on the basis that he is ready to sacrifice for her -- because he isn't. But in the closing scene, Adam receives a children's book from Beth -- the book tells a children's version of their own romance. Adam realizes how deeply he impacted Beth's heart, and he finally realizes that he is truly loved by her. For one reason or another, whether he deserves it or not, he knows he is loved. We know from earlier in the film that Adam's mother died early on in his childhood. This moment is probably the first time in his life that Adam feels loved by a woman. And although they don't wind up together at the end of the film, Adam takes a giant step toward being able to love someone else, now that he understands that he himself is loved, despite his many flaws.

The end of the film takes place at the Mt. Wilson observatory, a famous southern California haven for stargazers, astronomy buffs, and researchers of the heavens. Adam found himself in the land of Receiving Love. He didn't belong there. But there he was. (As a Christian, blessed with a myriad of things I don't deserve, I can certainly relate.)