To live in a world in which anything could be bluntly said is almost unthinkable. Imagine if Hollywood’s creative community simply told producers that they refused to work on a runaway production. Perhaps the number of local film shoots wouldn’t be so dismal. Unfortunately, social norms and self-preservation tell those without industry power to bite their tongue.
Enter Max Mayer. As the writer and director of Fox Searchlight’s Adam, he has created a story that puts such unfiltered speech in the spotlight. Focusing this touching film on a character afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome, Mayer allows for a brief look into the life of someone that says what he means, despite the awkwardness that inevitably follows. And perhaps more delightful than the story itself is Adam’s setting.
Billing the film as a romantic comedy is unfair, as Adam deals with the human condition much more than typical summer fare. Adam Raki is a thirtysomething New Yorker – touchingly portrayed by Hugh Dancy – with a beautiful mind, albeit a problematic one. Asperger’s is a form of autism often causing a hard time understanding what other people are thinking. When Adam falls in love with his new neighbor Beth – a charming Rose Byrne – an emotional rollercoaster ensues.
Originally from New York, Mayer wrote Adam taking place in and around Manhattan. Like many locally shot romantic movies – An Affair to Remember, When Harry Met Sally, any classic Woody Allen film – Adam showcases one charming New York City spot after another. A chilly walk through Central Park, dining at ‘Cesca on the Upper West Side and an evening Off-Broadway are just a few postcard scenes.
With a budget under $1 million, concerns over tax incentives and cheaper locations didn’t bother Mayer. “Essentially, when you are just begging for locations and paying very little, then you are relying on the kindness of strangers,” he told me. “You are as likely to find that in
New York as you would anywhere else.”
Mayer found New York cooperative while shooting in public spaces; however getting specific locations was not as easy. “People are so used to getting paid here… meaning they are savvy about opening their homes up,” he said. “By the time we started shooting we still were missing around 15 locations.” After filming during the day Mayer’s team would look for locations at night. Things became so hectic that they would find a spot then shoot it the very next morning. “It was a mess,” Mayer laughed.
When it came to a scene where Adam meets the parents – Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving – of his love interest, Beth, Mayer decided to set it in an Off-Broadway theatre. While he doesn’t remember the exact location his first draft originally depicted, a nearly 30-year friendship with the Cherry Lane Theatre’s artistic director, Angelina Fiordellisi, allowed for a sweet match. “She gave us the theatre for nothing,” Mayer said. “And she did it without knowing anything about the script.”
So, with a little help from his friends, and a picturesque setting, Mayer was able to bring his enchanting film to life in the city that raised him. There is no telling what could happened had Adam been under the control of a major studio – I hear Canada makes for a perfectly second rate New York City. That is, of course, if the idea of making a film in America is no longer important. After watching Adam it should become perfectly clear that a film about New York should actually be shot in, of all places, New York.
Fox Searchlight’s Adam opens in limited release July 29, 2009 after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
This article was published by the Huffington Post on July 29, 2009.