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The cast. Mayer is in the middle and Dancy is to the left.
A long time ago, I was a social worker and then a family therapist. Later, I taught psychology. During the course of this, I worked with a few folks with Autism spectrum disorders–including Asperger’s Syndrome. Now I am NOT an expert but know enough by teaching about it, knowing folks with it (including a few of my students) and reading up on it to know whether or not a film that deals with this topic gets it right or wrong. It was because of this background I was excited to watch “Adam”–to see if I finally found a film that got it right. This is because although a lot of folks on the internet talk about this disorder (and many claim to have it–though in most cases this seems to be done to excuse boorish behavior) but few folks REALLY understand what it is. I sure wish I’d had this film available to me when I was teaching–it sure would have provided a nice example for my students.
I won’t spend a lot of time discussing what Asperger’s is–though it would make sense to briefly explain it. People with Asperger’s are generally quite normal. However, they are socially inept–having great difficulty picking up on normal social cues, understanding polite conversation and relating to people in a healthy manner. It’s as if they are socially retarded–generally unable to understand nuances, metaphors or things such as sarcasm or inferences. But, on the other hand, intellectually (aside from the social aspects) they are very normal and even sometimes brilliant. They are also incredibly literal in their thinking and speech. For someone to build a relationship with an individual like this is possible…though it certainly poses challenges.
Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a nice young man who lives alone and works with computers and loves astronomy. He happens to strike up a conversation with his neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne) and slowly they become friends. But, early on, it’s obvious to Beth that there is something wrong with Adam. When he tells her he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, she learns more about him–such as how to interact with him as well as his social shortcomings. And, despite this problem, she learns to love him and vice-versa. The movie then unfolds–and addresses the unspoken salient point–is loving a person enough when you’re in a relationship?
The writer/director of this film is Max Mayer. It’s obvious that Max either knows someone with the diagnosis or he really, really did his homework. The film very accurately portrays someone with these life challenges–and Hugh Dancy was amazing in the film–simply amazing. I also really, really appreciated how the movie did NOT simply give way to sentiment or stuff itself with clichés, film formula or false nobility. Realism and integrity of the characters is what made this film really work for me.
If you do see this exceptional film (and I strongly recommend you do), a couple things I noticed that you may also like are Dancy’s amazing performance which includes no trace of his British accent as well as the cute scene with Beth reading to her young students. As for Ms. Byrne, she is also excellent and I had no idea she was an Aussie–there was no trace of this accent in the film. The way the little kids talked about “The Emperor’s New Clothes”–and how some just didn’t get it at all–was very realistic. Apparently, Mayer also really understands kids and child development! What a great film–and one of the few movies where I have NOTHING negative to say about it!
If you can find a copy, try watching “Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius”. Fortunately it IS currently available from Netflix and is an absolute must for fans of silent comedy. As the title of the DVD set implies, Bowers is pretty much forgotten today–even though his silents are among the best shorts of the era–rivaling those of Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin in quality and creativity. Now despite placing his name beside these great comics, Bowers’ style was really nothing like any of these three men. No, he was truly an original as he integrated stop-motion cinematography into more traditional silent comedies–and wrote, directed and starred in many of these films. And, the results were often brilliant (such as in “There It Is!”–and there’s a link to the film above). However, very sadly, very few of his films remain today and so you’ll just have to content yourself with the DVD set as well as this other film currently posted on YouTube. I’d like to say more about the man, but the bottom line is that you should just see these films–they speak for themselves. Do yourself a favor–give it a look.
While this list is not completely current, this is a breakdown of the top reviewers on IMDB. Wow….
For fans of television and films (especially television) from the 1950s and 60s, there’s little doubt that this man’s face is familiar. Burt Mustin must have appeared in about half a billion TV shows in supporting roles in shows such as “Leave it to Beaver”, “The Andy Griffith Show”, “Dragnet” and “All in the Family”*. And each time he appeared, I found myself smiling. Was he a great actor? I doubt if many would say that. But he sure added color and fun into whatever he did!
Mustin was an unusual man. His first appearance, in “The Detective Story” in 1951, was at age 67!! So, instead of staying retired from careers in engineering, sales and selling stocks and bonds, he took up acting! And, he continued acting well past that. His final role was at age 91–when I guess he decided to slow down just a little! He also was unusual, by Hollywood standards, for being married to the same woman for 54 years! All in all, I really miss the guy. He managed to infuse quite a bit of heart in everything he did and I really don’t know who is like him in film or television today.
By the way, I have no idea what role this is but I’d sure love to know!!
UPDATE: My cousin, Jason, is AMAZING at trivia and somehow knew this was Mustin playing ‘Kimba’ on the TV show “The Monkees”. While part of me wants to see this, part of me is afraid…very afraid…
*Okay, I admit it. He only appeared in about 150 different shows and movies–but it sure seemed like a lot more, as he seemed quite ubiquitous on the big and small screen.