Friday, March 27, 2009

Opening Night, Adam, and more ASD meetings

So yesterday was opening night, where the feature screening was a movie called "Adam" starring Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne.  Adam first screened at Sundance, where it was picked up by Fox Searchlight and will get theatrical distribution in a platform release starting in July and going nationwide by Labor Day.

The particularly intriguing thing about this movie, for me, is that it is from another writer-director who independently about five years ago came up with the following plot for a movie: a young woman trying to sort out the direction in her life has a chance encounter with a fascinating but strange young man.  She falls in love with him, but his Asperger's Syndrome makes a normal relationship difficult.

Wow, huh?  Sound familiar?

Needless to say, I have been insanely curious about this movie.  How much will it overlap with ours?  Will they be direct competition or will the two pieces be complimentary contrasting views of the same topic?  I asked everyone I knew who saw it at Sundance what it was like, and went google searching for clips.  I also tried writing to Max Mayer (writer-director) to see if we could chat.

Apparently Fox Searchlight prevented us getting in touch, but before the screening we found each other and had a really great bit of conversation.  Two of his producers were there, Leslie and Miranda, who could not have been nicer; they even threw us a plug during their Q&A.  With luck, this means a lot of people will go see both films to get their own comparison/contrast between the two.

And in great news, for both projects, they really are extremely different, both in tone and purpose.  I think much of this difference grows out of the fact that their aspie character has been diagnosed.  He is fully aware of his condition and has a certain amount of support structure in place to help him cope with the difficulties it can present.  He is able to explain Apserger's to his paramour early on; she gets to read up on it.  The movie does a nice job of explaining in good detail what is going on as the couple works to overcome the challenges.  

In ours, Nelson has never been diagnosed, only ostracized.  His coping mechanism is nothing more than an often insufficient ability to mimic the neurotypical people around him.  His network of support is non-existent, as is his ability to explain himself.  As a result, we wind up telling a wildly different story, despite the overlap in plot points.  I told Max, it's like being in an art class and seeing the way the guy on the other side of the room painted the bowl of fruit -- a completely different persepctive, and a completely different interpretation.

That said, it was weird to see that we occasionally made very similar choices in terms of sound design or certain camera angles as a way to capture the life of an aspie when he's alone.  There was an issue with the screening print, so I wish I could tell you more about the look of the movie.  But I can tell you that Hugh Dancy was quite good playing the title role.  His is a more open and obvious expression of AS than in our movie, as befits the character he was playing.  What I liked most is how delicately he handled a character who is aware of his own miscues and still powerless to control them.  Rose Byrne, as always, looks stunning even when playing a modest every-girl.  They made a nice choice to have her in too much makeup a lot of the time, which lent her a sense of insecurity that is not easily associated with an otherwise beautiful woman.  Amy Irving is fantastic in a small role, and I am happy any time I get to see Frankie Faison's work.  Also, I am jealous of Deb Talan being on their soundtrack.

On the whole, Adam is almost exactly the movie I specifically told our cast we were not making (not because it is in any way bad, just because it was not our movie); so I am glad to see that the people who did make that movie made it very well.  It is genuinely heart-warming and very sweet; it will make a terrific date movie and will serve to create a positive awareness of AS that has been sorely lacking in our culture.

As for the rest of opening night: I got to meet several more filmmakers that I missed at yesterday's party, including some random connections from Philly and NYC.  One actress who is out here with her movie is friends with Marin and had heard about this project two years ago!  Also, Jon Tenney was here last night.  He has been in a number of movies, including one of my favorites You Can Count On Me.  But he is probably best known currently for his work on The Closer as Kyra Sedgwick's husband (also my favorite character on the show, so I enjoyed meeting him).

And lastly, I had the chance to talk recently with a couple of behaviorists who work with autistic children.  Both run sizeable and well-known clinics in the L.A. area.  The process called ABA is quite controversial in the ASD community: proponents argue that is creates essential life skills for people on the spectrum so they can be more independent, whereas detractors say it is a cruel, Pavlovian way to try and force autistics to act more "normal".  One of these conversations in particular, with Dr. Ronald Leaf, was utterly fascinating.  I will not write about it here in detail, as this is already a long post.  But I will give you this highlight: I listened to one of the pioneers of ABA absolutely eviscerate the ABA industry in this country!  His words: 95% of what's being practiced out there is "bad ABA"; it's a robotic, cookie cutter approach that doesn't really address the needs of the child as a whole person.

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