New in Film for August 14, 2009

 Adam

There's not much to get passionate about in this amiable chamber piece from theater director Max Mayer. Hedging just about every bet it lays on the table to the tune of a gentle guitar, Adam spins a wish-fulfilling romance between a recently bereaved young man with Asperger's syndrome (Hugh Dancy) and his beauteous new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne). Byrne possesses an on-screen radiance and a soothingly warm palette lit by cinematographer Seamus Tierney, but her character all too conveniently happens to work in a helping profession. Writer-director Mayer tries to reduce the improbability quotient by loading Beth up with burdens, including Peter Gallagher, who does "feckless father" in his sleep. To his credit, Dancy doesn't take the showstopping Rain Man route, but, however underplayed, his Adam is all too authentic for most social intercourse. It's clogged to the pore with pathos, like the boxes of mac-and-cheese stacked in Adam's freezer, bogus romanticism about mental illness, the obligatory kindly black helper (Frankie Faison), and the saintly patience of the love interest. Adam only confronts reality at the end, when it becomes clear that the relationship he seeks with Rose will only work if the healthy partner is willing to become a mother, not a wife. Ella Taylor


Bandslam

Deep into this latest ride on the High School Musical bandwagon, the death of a main character's father is treated as less devastating than the social-clique intel it uncovers. Besides that bit of OMG hysteria, Todd Graff's film is written with a desperate cleverness that clamors for attention over the brainless against-the-odds music-competition plot. Chinless new kid Will (Gaelan Connell) finds his encyclopedic audiophilia pressed into service when nervy Charlotte (singer Aly Michalka) wants to enter her garage trio into a regional battle of the bands. He also finds a partner in crime in sarcastic outsider "Sa5m" (played by HSMer Vanessa Hudgens), while his long-necked and fretful mom (Lisa Kudrow) hovers. Thus, Will achieves the bizarre dream of becoming a band manager, in a story littered with musical references (Bowie, CBGB) that are more 50-year-old screenwriter than platinum teenybopper. The fleeting first kiss between Will and Sa5m is the rare sweet moment on the trudge toward the big night, when a tinny lineup of finalists in various ersatz styles climaxes with Will's nine-piece band—actually called "I Can't Go On, I'll Go On." Nicolas Rapold


Paper Heart

A documentary except when it's a mockumentary, this is all kinds of adorable and heartbreaking — the doc part, at least. Charlyne Yi (Martin Starr's girlfriend in Knocked Up) sets out to cross the country and find the meaning of True Love, because she's pretty damned sure she'll never experience it herself. Sad, right? Except it isn't: Along the way, Yi bumps into Movie Stars who don't buy her bull (Seth Rogen tells Yi her "love glass is half full") and True Believers whose fairy tales she recounts using crude, whimsical homemade puppets. It's like those old folks' interludes from When Harry Met Sally as interpreted by a sweet hipster naïf. The mock part, though, feels a little too mock: At a bold-faced Hollywood house party, Yi bumps into Michael Cera, and his instant crush on the gawkward comic turns into the love affair Yi never thought within her grasp. The scenes with Cera play a bit darker than intended as Cera's crush evolves into full-on stalking, but director Nicholas Jasenovec plays the thing with so much deadpan earnestness that it's easy to miss the high "creepy" factor. Cera begins ingratiating himself into Yi's quest, but that part of the story is doomed from jump: It's entertaining for a moment, but hardly as enlightening or endearing as the from-the-heart moments surrounding it. Yet again, real people are more interesting than fake ones. Robert Wilonsky


The Time Traveler's Wife

A dapper (mostly) contemporary costume drama, The Time Traveler's Wife is abundantly interior-decorated in vintage rococo. Eric Bana, to his credit, continues to wear the outfits picked out for him remarkably well. The hip-bougie upholstery even covers the band at the fairy-tale wedding, playing "Love Will Tear Us Apart." It's not really love, though, that complicates things between Clare (Rachel McAdams) and Henry (Bana), but, instead, Henry's tendency to inconveniently melt in and out of the present, finding himself unceremoniously stranded somewhere in time, naked. The "absentee time-traveling partner" is an open invitation to apply your own metaphor — I favor a time-travel-equals-chronic-blackout-drinking reading. Wife forgoes any sense of mystery, dealing in the daily difficulties of synchronizing schedules, doctors' appointments, vasectomies, pregnancies, and meeting friends and parents, all crowding the movie and further diluting the already-limited rapport of the central lovers. This thoroughness may impress fans of the bestseller source novel but will disappoint anyone looking for transport from a movie. Being a time traveler's wife, it turns out, is mostly a drag. Nick Pinkerton

 
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