By Owen Gleiberman
Updated July 31, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Julia Griner

The title character of Max Mayer’s Adam is a 29-year-old electronics engineer with Asperger’s syndrome — and yes, he is one of those charming, saintly, afflicted movie misfit child-men. He’s played by British heartthrob Hugh Dancy, who never got the credit he deserved for romancing Isla Fisher with debonair understatement in Confessions of a Shopaholic. The way Dancy portrays Adam (with great skill), he’s a hermetically shy, overgrown whiz kid who’s like Forrest Gump with a touch of Norman Bates and the look of an elegantly skinny framed Jake Gyllenhaal.

Out on his own for the first time (in the opening scene, he attends his dad’s funeral), Adam has little company beyond a freezer full of macaroni-and-cheese dinners, and his conversation consists mostly of nattering, to whoever will listen, about his favorite topic: the origins of the universe. He’s got a makeshift planetarium set up in his New York brownstone, and when he starts to go on about star systems and black holes, he can get a little possessed. The shrewdest thing about Dancy’s performance is that even when he makes eye contact, he doesn’t quite make eye contact. Adam soaks up information, but he can’t hear irony, jokes, or subtext; he can’t feel what other people are saying. He lives inside his head, and Dancy lets you see how Adam experiences his thoughts — which are mostly sensible, by the way — as if they were physical sensations knocking his body around. In reality, Asperger’s syndrome includes a vast range of traits, but in Adam it’s nothing more (or less) than a heightened form of solipsism.

The mild charm of Adam — and what makes it, at times, a piece of borderline kitsch — is that it’s an affliction movie in which the hero’s handicap is so much less severe than it is in, say, Rain Man or Charly that the film frequently seems a bit daffy for placing it so front and center. When Adam meets his new downstairs neighbor, a sweetheart of a grade-school teacher played by Rose Byrne (Damages), Adam begins to turn into one of those dramas in which a completely normal girl falls for a weirdly withdrawn guy because…there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise. I know, I know: We’re supposed to see all the love that Adam has bottled up inside. But it’s hard to buy this relationship even for a moment. Adam is sweet, meticulous, and, at times, sort of clever, but it’s also a not-quite-surprising-enough heartwarming trifle. B?

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