Small Summer Films Have Big Impact

(L to R): Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy.

(L to R): Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy.

Big budget blockbusters are part of enjoying the summer. But the next time you go to a nice cool theater, consider some of the little gems that are gracing the screens this season. Smaller films tend to tell stories about unusual subjects that expand understanding, and many are out to touch our hearts. “Adam” from Fox Searchlight is one of those, starring Rose Byrne, Hugh Dancy, Amy Irving and Peter Gallagher. Director-writer Max Mayer has skillfully put the focus on a misunderstood disability that emphasizes the communication problems in a relationship.
At its heart, “Adam” is a classic boy-meets-girl love story that explores the emotional obstacle between Adam (Dancy) and Beth (Byrne). Adam is brilliant, but has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is characterized by uncomfortable social skills because he can’t “read” what others are thinking and feeling. That makes social connections difficult for him, until he meets Beth, whose friendship and understanding leads to a romance, despite the couple being complete polar opposites.
There’s humor and drama in the situation that everyone can identify with, Mayer told me. We talked about how everybody stumbles through life with some sort of handicap, emotional or physical, but we learn little tricks to help us cope. Directing and writing is a compensation for Mayer’s notion that he doesn’t think anybody might be interested in what he has to say. “It’s a paradox,” the filmmaker admits.
Equally paradoxical is discovering that the stars, Rose Byrne, Hugh Dancy and the wonderfully vociferous Peter Gallagher, say they are painfully shy and they cope by performing.
Rose seems to be enormously self-confident personally, as well as in playing roles such as the brilliant young lawyer opposite Glenn Close in the acclaimed FX series “Damages.” Plus she was strong in the mega-thriller “Knowing” opposite Nicolas Cage. But Rose revealed that she had to learn to cope with being “fairly timid as a person. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve managed to deal with that in healthier ways, (other than) isolate myself and not communicate. I try to get myself out of my shell a bit more. I’m more aware of not being worried about what people think now. For me, confidence has come with age,” said Rose at 29.
If you looked at handsome Hugh Dancy, you wouldn’t think that this successful young actor would be a shy guy, but he thinks “it’s a carryover from a totally inaccurate sense of self, usually from when you were an adolescent and you’re painfully self-conscious. I suppose that’s just another way of saying none of us know the gulf between who we are and who we think we are.”
At the round table interviews for “Adam,” Peter Gallagher came in joking with everyone, and even sang for us. So it was a shock to hear him admit, “I’m very shy, and over-compensate by talking way too much.” He’s the son of a hard-working immigrant coal miner, and his mother barely left the house, “so I was not introduced to a world where people were confident socially.” But he found a freedom in performing. “That’s why acting is so important to me. I disappear when I’m there, and I have the freedom that I don’t have when I’m in the (real) world. Right now it’s a bit of a performance because I believe in the movie.” He learned a bit from “Adam” as others will.
What about some other little movies? Jerry Bruckheimer has an effects-packed blockbuster about guinea pigs who save the world with “G-Force.” But there’s a little hamster movie upcoming that is sure to tug at your heart.
“Etienne” is the timeless tale of friendship between two kindred spirits (one of them a hamster) on a journey through life. It just had its world premiere at CineVegas and director-writer Jeff Mizushima won the special Jury Award. Go to www.hamstermovie.com to see how sweet it is, and when it will be released.
Another gem, “The Answer Man,” is a romantic comedy starring Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham, about admitting no one has all the answers about life or relationships, but we should never stop searching.
More explosive is “The Hurt Locker,” now in theaters, starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. Director Kathryn Bigelow is brilliant at bringing audiences the shock and awe story about the military’s most unrecognized heroes, the bomb squad team. You feel as if you’re embedded with the elite unit. When they sweat, you sweat. And when they disarm a bomb, you heave a sigh of relief. It’s not a movie about war; it’s about courage that has a huge impact.

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