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If there is one studio that knows how to pick indie winners, it is Fox Searchlight. Allow last year to serve as proof — they picked up Choke at Sundance and both Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler later in the year at Telluride and Toronto. Judging by the way those worked out, it is safe to say that we should be keeping our eye on any acquisitions they make over the course of the festival season. Their first acquisition of 2009 came here in Park City, where they picked up writer/director Max Mayer’s charming romantic comedy Adam. And of course I had to check it out — who knows whether or not this could be the next great indie draft pick from the studio that’s been doing it right year in and year out.

Like so many of the comedies we’ve seen here in Park City, Adam is a rather straightforward romantic comedy with one unique little twist. The story follows Beth (Rose Byrne), a smart, sophisticated kindergarten teacher and aspiring writer who has just moved into a new Manhattan apartment. There she meets Adam (Hugh Dancy), a peculiar but strikingly intelligent neighbor to whom she is almost instantly attracted. As their relationship begins to grow beyond friendly passes, Beth begins to sense an awkwardness about Adam that makes her uneasy. But ultimately he wows her with an impromptu outer-space light show in his apartment. This magical moment, hindered slightly by Adam’s obsessively in-depth astronomical knowledge, pushes them into a more serious relationship. And even as Beth learns of Adam’s struggles with social conventions and the disease that keeps him from being able to decipher non-verbal signals, she sticks with it, falling deeper and deeper into Adam’s sometimes confusing world.

It might be about a very straightforward romantic comedy, working off of a relatively unoriginal formula — at least until the end, but Adam works because its central characters have such great chemistry. Together on screen Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy deliver Beth and Adam as an authentic pair, executing perfectly the film’s many tender and sweet moments. As well, Hugh Dancy’s performance as a man suffering from Asperger Syndrome is top-notch. He displays fantastic range and gives the character an unmistakable charm while also giving him a sense of obliviousness, the same obliviousness that one would have if they couldn’t understand how to read other people. He also delivers the comedy, including but not limited to a moment when Adam tells Beth that he’s “not Forest Gump” after she gives him a box of chocolates. Mark my words, this could easily be a big breakout role for Mr. Dancy.

In the end, Adam isn’t one of those special films that is going to blow you away. It develops slowly and relies heavily its two leads to make it work. But their performances do make for a very charming 90-minute run. It is also easy to see why Fox Searchlight was smitten for this one. Its young stars and relatively sunny (but sometimes sad) disposition make it ripe for a ground-up marketing effort. It reminds me a lot of Once, but a little funnier and with less music, obviously. Charming, light and smart, Adam is yet another really enjoyable comedy experience to be had from this year’s Sundance film festival. Looks like Fox Searchlight still has it.

Grade: B+


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