Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! As of late, the male heroes of romantic comedies veer between two extremes. On the one hand, there’s the chauvinism of Gerard Butler’s The Ugly Truth. And if Gawker’s found footage is any indication, the upcoming Tucker Max “romantic” “comedy” will be infinitely more loathsome. Then there is the other extreme. These guys aren’t chauvinistic, they’re sensitive and awkward. They don’t bellow broad generalizations about women, they’re capable of romance and the female leads are sometimes boorish. Sure, the awkwardness of Adam and Paper Heart made me cringe in my seat. Nevertheless the characters are funny and even touching.
Despite the obvious differences between Adam Raki and Lloyd Dobler, the movie Adam most closely resembles is Say Anything. Lloyd is anything but neurotic, and Adam suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Yet there are fathers with dubious values, as well as young women who are sensitive and kind. The characters of Adam are older and more world-weary than the idealists of Cameron Crowe’s classic, so plot developments are comparatively realistic. Writer/director Max Mayer’s romantic comedy has unusually emotional scenes, and bravely sacrifices warmth for insight.
Since Adam (Hugh Dancy) has Asperger’s, everyday interaction is a struggle. His father dies, so his world becomes smaller. Adam is utterly incapable of irony or empathy, and fixates on astronomy to a fault. Now he can only depend on his father’s wartime buddy (Frankie Faison), since there’s even uncertainty in his job. Then Beth (Rose Byrne) moves across the hall. She’s perceptive and sweet, and after a no-good-ex, she’s ready to date someone neurologically incapable of guile. Of course her blossoming relationship with Adam has its share of hiccups. He cannot perceive her needs, and she must adhere to his. Amidst all this, Beth worries about her father’s (Peter Gallagher) ongoing legal dispute. Adam and Beth tentatively consider a future together, but things aren’t as simple as they are in most romantic comedies.
I can’t be sure whether Dancy and Mayer portray Asperger’s accurately. It’s a credit to both that the character feels plausible, and his conflicts unfold logically. Some scenes feel like instructions on how to interact with such a person, yet Mayer’s perceptive humor prevents any tedium. Beth must be at the emotional center of Adam, and Rose Byrne does stellar work with the role. When she’s upset and nonetheless follows Adam’s rigid routine, the acting and direction are unexpectedly moving. The couple has their inevitable big fight, and its aftermath veers into serious drama. Beth and Adam are two adults with real problems, and wisely consider their feelings before commitment. The final scenes feel accurate and hopeful. Mayer doggedly avoids cliché, so while Adam may not have an immediate payoff, its subtlety rewards on a deeper level than its peers.
Paper Heart is a mix of documentary and fiction that’s almost too cute for its own good. The fiction is sometimes rewarding whereas the documentary always rings true. Comedian Charlyne Yi and the perennially awkward Michael Cera play versions of themselves. Jake M. Johnson plays Nick, the faux-documentarian who follows Charlene on her quest to define love. She goes to across the country to interview regular folks about their romances. In a style reminiscent of Michel Gondry, Charlene animates the stories her interviewees offer. Later she “meets” Michael at a party, and a romance begins in spite of the omnipresent camera crew. Charlene and Michael routinely break the fourth wall, and fight for whatever privacy they can get. It gets to be all-too-much for Michael, and soon their relationship is in jeopardy.
A cursory glance on IMDb informs us that parts of Paper Heart are fabrication. Michael and Charlene, in fact, have been a couple for years (although perhaps they recently broke up). Their creative license, however, does not detract their scenes together. Chemistry is there, and the awkward interactions are sometimes funny. Charlene only speaks with a low deadpan – at first it’s annoying, yet she conveys enough vulnerability to win the audience. As Nick, Johnson is a good foil for Charlene. He has an Everyman quality that makes for hilarious clashes with Charlene’s odd demeanor. Ultimately the scripted scenes lack of the spontaneity of Charlene’s interactions with everyday people, and it is completely Michael Cera’s fault. He’s been playing the exact same character since 2003, and seemingly cannot stop. I’ve long persisted that to avoid typecasting, Michael Cera should play a bad guy or sexual deviant. It is all too obvious how his scenes with Charlene will play out. Thankfully director/co-writer Nicholas Jasenovec peppers his movie with plenty of fresh material. Amidst the comedy, Paper Heart has a nice message about love and its implied risk. The movie is always pleasant, and sporadically engrossing.
In summation, there are two good indie comedies opening on Friday. Paper Heart will go down easier, Adam will leave you more satisfied. Decide accordingly.