Making the Grades
When Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne) moves into an apartment in a NYC borough, she runs into her new neighbor Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy). Rebounding from a broken relationship, the elementary school teacher is intrigued by the handsome but quiet tenant who seems a little flustered when they first meet outside the door of the laundry room. It doesn’t take long for Beth to realize Adam is more than just uneasy around people.
The brilliant electronics engineer, who has an exhaustive understanding of the intricacies of space, doesn’t clue in and offer to help when she struggles up the steps of the stoop with some heavy packages. He stumbles over his efforts to make small talk and seems terrified at an invitation to join her and her friends for dinner. Only after an extremely uncomfortable encounter between the two neighbors does she discover Adam suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome.
Although he is able to perform highly specialized skills in the workplace and carry on with the basic responsibilities of home, his form of high functioning autism leaves him struggling with basic social interactions and the inconsistencies of life, especially after his father dies and leaves him alone.
Despite her parents’ (Amy Irving, Peter Gallagher) warnings, Beth warms up to Adam and gently pushes him beyond his comfort level while respecting his fears. Unfortunately as their relationship develops, the film delves periodically into the couple’s intimate interactions. Along with a brief scene in which Beth asks for sex, the movie shows the pair in bed on several occasions and includes innuendo and discussions. Unable to understand what another person is feeling or thinking, Adam openly questions Beth about sexual arousal as he tries to make sense of the subtleties of romance and physical excitement.
Still, the test of their deepening friendship comes when Adam faces another challenging setback. Meanwhile, Beth’s life is reeling as she deals with her own collection of heartbreaking issues. The strain forces them to examine their own needs and expectations for the future.
Handing in an Oscar-worthy performance, Hugh Dancy (known for his romantic roles in Confessions of a Shopaholic, Ella Enchanted and The Jane Austen’s Book Club) loses himself completely in the character of Adam Raki. Taking on both the physical and developmental characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome, Dancy gives an honest and believable presence to his character.
The theme of this film and some brief strong language (two uses of a strong sexual expletive are uttered during an intense argument) make this story unsuitable for younger teens and children. However, powerful writing, good cinematography and a thoughtful script will push adult audience members to consider their own comfort level with various social and developmental issues.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Adam.
What challenges does Beth face as she develops a relationship with Adam? What things will she have to be willing to overlook or deal with on a regular basis? How does her love and acceptance of Adam change him?
What concerns do her parents have? Are these realistic? How can our expectations of others, including people with developmental, physical or mental challenges, either limit or enhance the lives of those individuals?