We celebrate a little side trip to theÂ world of RomDram, light years (or is it baby steps?) away from the usual RomComÂ formula. There we meet two somewhat flawed potential mates presented asÂ reasonable romantic possibilities and the slightly vanilla women who want themÂ but ultimately find them wanting. Which film will best light your romantic fireÂ and which imperfect guy will keep you stoked the longest? The socially awkwardÂ uber- gifted Grateful Guy or the disappearing reappearing Hunka Hunka BurningÂ Romantic Love? Ah, the Boys of Summer 2009.
In This Corner
This somewhat faithful film adaptation of a very popular novel features Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as loving lifelong partners with a unique time traveling twist. Not to ruin any surprises, Henry first meets Claire when she is a child and revisits her throughout her life. She experiences time in the usual linear way; suffice it to say that Henry does not. The film takes this little peculiarity absolutely seriously, avoiding the comic possibilities, aiming too-squarely instead for sentiment and romance and occasionally hitting the target. (When it misses, the film is even more unintentional fun.) The leads are attractive, and their much-more-than-sexual connection convincing enough to get us over the disturbingly pedophiliac image of a time traveling naked man accosting a trusting child in her backyard. Almost.
In That Corner
â€œAdamâ€ is more than a cinematicÂ textbook illustrating the joys and perils of living alone in a big city withÂ autism, but it does get some things remarkably right. Adam (A Mister RightÂ Sundae With Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome On Top) misses some (not all) social cues andÂ he does exhibit genius, intense interests,Â rare focus, and a pronounced (occasionally pathological)Â preference for routine. The film boasts considerable charms. [BONUS: SmackÂ Within A Smack! â€œSay Anythingâ€ (1989) provides an obvious (if far superior)Â story template. Here, Adam somewhat awkwardly stands in for adorable LloydÂ Dobler, perennial poster boy for love objects deemed unworthy by the skeevyÂ dads of overprotected daughters. Eighties icon Jon Cusack (Lloyd) proved hisÂ love and launched a million movie crushes, standing with his boombox blastingÂ overhead to wake his beloved; here, Adam yells his girlfriendâ€™s name in theÂ middle of her street. Both girlsâ€™ doting fathers face similar legal wranglingsÂ and fortuitously timed jail sentences. Itâ€™s been twenty years since Lloyd andÂ Diane defied parental objection, and filmmakers havenâ€™t gotten the chemistryÂ any more right since. Still, thereâ€™s something to be said for making autismÂ sexy.
Both films are perfectlyÂ dreadful/wonderful in entirely different (if entertaining) ways, and itâ€™s goingÂ to be difficult coming up with a clear winner; however, it will be delightfulÂ deciding which guy would make the dreamier husband. The women on hand provideÂ no contest whatsoever; Rose Byrneâ€™s performance is whiney and borderline creepyÂ while Rachel McAdamsâ€™ baby blues shine with love and mysteriously undyingÂ affection, unearned and bizarrely inexplicable as that devotion may be.
(A side note/rant: Weâ€™re up to our necks in foreignersÂ playing Americans, something of a regular occurrence when it comes to romanceÂ on film. Either we Yanks donâ€™t like our fantasies homegrown or perhaps theÂ insistent inclusion of the British Commonwealth incrementally expands theÂ international audience. Whatever the reasons, Aussie Rose Byrne fumbles a bitÂ as an utterly unconvincing New York Jewess named Beth opposite always adorableÂ Brit Hugh Dancy who plays the Aspergerâ€™s afflicted Adam with a wide-eyed,Â slack-jawed and only slightly bogus earnestness. Aussie hunk Eric Bana scoresÂ as genetic anomaly Time Traveler midwesterner Henry while as his wife, CanadianÂ Rachel McAdams manages a reasonably convincing (if geographically vague)Â Chicago WASP-y rich girl. Like Gerard Butler in â€œThe Ugly Truth â€ and KateÂ Winslet in â€œRevolutionary Road,â€ they all affect flat and frustratinglyÂ unspecific American accents, rendering them a tad generic, creepy and alien.Â Iâ€™m sure critical denizens of the UK experience similar difficulties with RenÃ©eÂ Zellweger (Bridget Jones) and Michelle Pfeiffer among many others.
This accent stuff isnâ€™t forÂ sissies; one wonders why romantic leads canâ€™t hail from their countries ofÂ origin and skip this pseudo-Middle Atlantic guff altogether.)Â Time travel rules change with all the discipline of wheatÂ waving in a field. One wishes theyâ€™d leave the bonehead half-baked scientificÂ explanations for some other movie in some other genre. Romantic fantasy doesnâ€™tÂ require science. Iâ€™m a frequent time traveler myself, logging many half-wakingÂ hours in the halls of my high school and reliving schoolyard humiliations, notÂ to mention all the sleeping/dreaming visits to my childhood home. ExplanationsÂ are unnecessary; we know that time travel occurs for us and we accept it in ourÂ beloved. Our own pasts and futures intrude seamlessly on our presents withoutÂ any genetic mutations required. Cheesy special effects donâ€™t feed the romanticÂ fantasy much, and the weird pseudo-science begs for parody and out-loudÂ laughter. (Check the babyâ€™s clock genes, anyone?)
Adam fluctuates from clever jokester to AmeliaÂ Bedelia-addled simpleton. Idioms are foreign language to Adam when it suits theÂ screenplay; and yes, while itâ€™s true that Aspergerâ€™s syndrome symptoms do run aÂ wide gamut, it strains credulity a bit when Adam appears hopelessly literal inÂ one moment and Cary Grant debonair the next.
Still and all, Hugh Dancy is awfully (might I sayÂ irresistibly?) cute, and his Adam follows Bethâ€™s boudoir-bound directionsÂ almost too well. Thatâ€™s the good news. Hug me now. Take it slow. One grows dizzy imagining all the possibilities inÂ such a malleable and eager trainee, and eventually, at least for selfishÂ spoiled entitled Daddyâ€™s girl Beth, this moonlit moonlighting teacher-studentÂ relationship hits a sort of dead-end snag. Adam requires a little too much ofÂ her attention and instruction, standing around waiting to be told where to goÂ and what to do when he gets there. Beth makes her own selfish decisions for herÂ own selfish reasons. As for me? Well, Adam could certainly hook up the HDTV andÂ the stereo components, and heâ€™d know his way around Radio Shack and theÂ planetarium,but he might exhaustÂ oneâ€™s patience. Just say no and walk away slowly, imagining Hugh Dancy usingÂ his real voice and his real charms to woo you in some other movie.
Eric Banaâ€™s genetic mutant Henry, on the other hand, wouldÂ seem the ideal husband, at least for me. He disappears for weeks at a time,Â occasionally reappearing as his younger incarnation, always naked, alwaysÂ romantic, rarely drunk. This dreamboatâ€™s no workaholic. Oh sure, he steals aÂ bit, and he tends to disappear at mildly inopportune moments, but whatâ€™s theÂ downside of a guy who wins the lottery for you and fathers a daughter withÂ awesome superpowers? He ages only to the perfect moment — his body hasnâ€™t yetÂ thickened orÂ failed, his templesÂ only lightly dusted with grey, crowâ€™s feet still nascent and adorable, and heÂ looks hot even in borrowed (or stolen) clothes. Heâ€™s Eric Freaking BanaÂ or crying out loud, and he lets you work in peaceÂ until all hours, you can leave the TV on all night, you rarely argue over moneyÂ or much else, and youâ€™ve known him practically forever. You donâ€™t have toÂ really wonder where heâ€™s been when heâ€™s gone because heâ€™s mostly been with you.Â You can have a guilt-free extramarital furtive fumbling fling with his youngerÂ self and it isnâ€™t even technicallyÂ heating. Henry can come back to visit after heÂ dies, and all he wants from you is a pileÂ of clothing, a perfectly corny run across a field culminating in a lingeringÂ kiss and a hug. No zombie haunting for this guy, just a declaration that heÂ still loves you and you still love him. Not a bad deal. Itâ€™s the ultimateÂ romantic fantasy wherein the love of your life leaves you mostly, blissfully,Â alone.
Awesome! (Have I said too much?)
So hereâ€™s the choice: A man who doesnâ€™t totally understandÂ women or anything else. Or a man who leaves and comes back unannounced from time toÂ time.
What else is new? Gimme one for right now and the other forÂ the road. Am I creeping you out yet?
As for the films, Iâ€™m just so grateful to be out off myÂ usual RomCom beat and away from a world filled with makeover montages and cuteÂ falling down. A little death, magic and Psych 101 goes down easy after theÂ summer Iâ€™ve had.
â€œAdamâ€ grades arrive on the high side of a critical bellÂ curve, the same one that wins â€œRain Manâ€ and â€œMy Left Footâ€ and â€œShineâ€ and countlessÂ others of this earnest genre endless awards. Critics (and audiences) apparentlyÂ love movies featuring handicaps of all kinds. This approbation proves somehowÂ ennobling and righteous for the viewer; a couple of hours spent in the darkÂ feels selfless, educational, and humanitarian. The road toÂ overwriting is paved with good intentions, but â€œimportantâ€ subject matterÂ doesnâ€™t always elevate sub-par moviemaking and questionable casting. Some of my best friends areÂ autisticâ€¦and special ed teachers. That said, â€œAdamâ€ was a little overcooked forÂ my taste. Still, had theÂ radiant Rachel McAdams played the prickly role of Beth, the film would win this race by a mile. I preferred the goofy â€œTime Travelerâ€™s Wifeâ€ and canâ€™t wait to watchÂ it again on DVD with my friends, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style. That willÂ be a total hoot. Or maybe I just want that house.
Donâ€™t judge me.