Autism.Â With the diagnosis on the rise, most of us find ourselves only a few degrees ofÂ separation from this little understood condition. Two of Hollywoodâ€™s most glamorousÂ young newlyweds spent their first year of marriage exploring the subject inÂ depth. Claire Danes stepped into the mighty big shoes of â€œTemple Grandinâ€ inÂ HBOâ€™s effective biopic while her husband Hugh Dancy played Hollywoodâ€™s firstÂ big-screen romantic lead with Aspergerâ€™s syndrome in â€œAdam.â€Â Both films rise well above a berth inÂ the overcrowded â€œDisease Of The Weekâ€ pigeonhole, but letâ€™s see which spouseÂ lands the knockout punch and gets cinematic autism exactly right.Â
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In ThisÂ Corner
The realÂ Temple Grandin understands animals and autism in a uniquely instinctual andÂ scientifically observant way; she has taught herself to be a renowned expert inÂ both subjects. Her autism is a remarkable gift and a disability she hasÂ explored fully in books and lectures. HBO presents a beautifully rendered filmÂ about her journey. â€œTemple Grandinâ€ star Claire Danes first arrived on theÂ nationâ€™s radar as a gawky teen in the never-topped television series â€œmyÂ so-called lifeâ€ and has grown up beautifully before us on large and smallÂ screen. Still luminous and preternaturally gifted, her performance in thisÂ stunningly powerful, surprisingly funny, wickedly clever biopic lifts theÂ material to the levels of excellence routinely claimed by most over-hyped HBOÂ Films. Itâ€™s not TV; itâ€™s HBO. This time, theyâ€™re not just whistling PR Dixie.
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InÂ That Corner
â€œAdamâ€Â is a romantic dramedy, a cinematic illustration of the joys and perils ofÂ living alone in a big city with autism and falling in love with Miss Not-QuiteÂ Right, the unworthy-if-terribly-convenient girl upstairs. Director-screenwriterÂ Max Mayer knows a thing or two about Aspergerâ€™s, and he uses what heÂ knows.Â Adam (A Mister RightÂ Sundae With Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome On Top)Â misses crucial social cues and exhibits genius, intense interests,Â rare focus, and a pathologicallyÂ pronounced preference for routine. Brit Hugh Dancy plays the Aspergerâ€™sÂ afflicted Adam with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed earnestness.
DanesÂ inhabits the role fully and powerfully; she acts with her skin, matchesÂ Templeâ€™s unmodulated voice, gives over her whole body and soul; those whoÂ havenâ€™t seen the real Temple Grandin should give google video a little spinÂ before watching the film to fully appreciate her characterization. It capturesÂ much more than an accurate impression would; she goes deep. We get it. And sheÂ moves us.
ChristopherÂ Mongerâ€™s and William Merritt Johnsonâ€™s very strong script is based on two ofÂ Temple Grandinâ€™s books and doesnâ€™t linger long in self-pity or melodrama.Â Instead, it strides ahead like its namesake, with an awkward rolling gait,Â through closed gates and locked doors and up shaky ladders. Director MickÂ Jackson focuses artfully and effectively on an evocative accumulation of visualÂ details that add up to a fascinating whole, putting the audience inside aÂ remarkable visual thinkerâ€™s mind. Sentiment and emotion are relative strangersÂ there; our sympathies sneak in a side door as Temple grows up and learns to fitÂ in with the wider and sometimes cruel world. Unlike the slightly overcookedÂ Look-What-I-Can-Do imagery of â€œA Beautiful Mind,â€ Jackson uses remarkableÂ restraint. He doesnâ€™t show off all the amazing tricks he can do with editing;Â his exhilarating flurries and flashes move us and enthrall us and take us everÂ deeper into Grandinâ€™s perceptions. I found myself wiping away tears at the mostÂ unusual and unlikely moments. Three remarkable actors round out the terrificÂ ensemble; their unsentimental love and commitment shines in everyÂ unsentimentalized frame. David Strathairn plays a pivotal science teacher,Â Julia Ormond her mother, and Catherine Oâ€™Hara her devoted aunt. Claire DanesÂ will be thanking a lot of these talented people at next yearâ€™s Emmys and GoldenÂ Globes, and Iâ€™ll be cheering for her.
TheÂ fictional â€œAdamâ€ concentrates on his awkward pursuit of the unworthy girlÂ upstairs, and the resulting brew is something of a mixed bag with no realÂ narrative drive or power. Itâ€™s a Nerf softball lobbed at a slightly fuzzyÂ target. The object of Adamâ€™s affection is played by Rose Byrne, perfectly goodÂ elsewhere, but here falling a little flat and under-realized. Story points getÂ piled on to fill the time, but the enterprise ultimately rings sweet andÂ well-meaning but slightly false.
(YouÂ can read my earlier review of â€œAdamâ€ â€“vs- â€œThe Time Travelerâ€™s Wifeâ€ for moreÂ smackitude.)
While â€œAdamâ€Â is a feature film released in actual theaters, the filmmaking was moreÂ pedestrian and less inspired than the filmmaking in â€œTemple Grandinâ€ whoseÂ cast, direction, screenplay, and subject matter never wavered or faltered. LikeÂ its heroine, the film had a mission and pursued it singlemindedly and withÂ great passion and focus. I admit that I had not spent much time consideringÂ animal handling in my past; the documentary â€œFood Inc.â€ has pretty much put meÂ off meat for the rest of my life. That said, while watching â€œTemple Grandinâ€Â nothing else mattered to me but what mattered to her. Her interests were mine.Â I was absolutely swept away into her world. Itâ€™s filmmaking at its very veryÂ best, and I recommend you catch it on demand or on DVD. It will rattle yourÂ perceptions and make you see things in an entirely new and exciting way.
The truth,Â they say, will set you free. And â€œTemple Grandinâ€ tells the unbridled,Â unadorned, unvarnished truth. Beautifully. Powerfully. Thought-provokingly.Â Sorry, Hugh. Your better half got the better deal on this gambit. And TV beatsÂ the movies.