For his second feature (following the little-seen 1995 thriller “Guiltrip”), Irish playwright Gerard Stembridge has fashioned a complex if sometimes laxly realized piece about a handsome, curiously ingratiating young man who charms all the members of a middle-class British family–including not only the waitress-singer to whom he becomes engaged, but also her two sisters and her brother. Cleverly told from the changing perspectives of all the siblings (with some sequences shown more than once as different eyes view and react to them), the cheerfully amoral tale of contemporary Dublin life may not strike one as terribly plausible, and it’s certainly not very uplifting; but it has the virtue of being unlike the cookie-cutter romantic comedies churned out regularly by the Hollywood studios. It possesses a tartness, a distinctive Celtic tang you might say, that carries it over its occasional lapses, and a rather unexpected denouement at a wedding ceremony (not dissimilar to the “Forget the Alamo” tagline of John Sayles’ “Lone Star”) closes it on a high note.
The key to Adam, played by easygoing, self-confident Stuart Townsend, as well as the central conceit of the movie about him, is that he can appear to be almost anything that someone else wants, making everyone automatically gravitate to him. For sweet, hopeful Lucy (Kate Hudson), who’s been unlucky with a drab boyfriend, he represents the excitement she pines after, while to bookish Laura (Frances O’Connor) he’s an intellectual companion and to catty, unhappy Alice (Charlotte Bradley), he’s a dangerous alternative to her dreary married life; to brother David (Alan Maher), meanwhile, Adam becomes not only a pal and a male model to emulate, but (uncomfortably enough) even an object of sexual desire. Adam, it must be noted, is hardly a passive recipient of all the attention the siblings shower upon him: he knowingly encourages all of them, a kind of equal-opportunity Don Juan who’s honed his seduction technique to a fine art. Yes for all his deviousness, he doesn’t come across as villainous or cruel; to the contrary, as Stembridge paints him and Townsend portrays him, he’s a charming rogue who does his “victims” more good than harm.
Much of the picture’s success comes not only from the sharp writing, but from its excellent cast. Townsend actually persuades you that he could be the object of so many desires, while Hudson makes a cheery partner for him, doing well even with the accent (Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger, watch out). O’Connor, Bradley and Maher are all a trifle broad, but they keep things on this side of obnoxious, and Rosaleen Linehan is nicely gregarious as their mother. (At one point you might suspect that she could get involved with Adam too, but happily that possibility isn’t explored.) Overall the picture moves well, although occasionally Stembridge’s direction seems a bit uncertain, letting the action go momentarily slack. Happily, his script is strong enough to weather such passages.
As a film “About Adam” may not be as irresistible as its title character, but it’s cheeky enough to be a mildly pleasant diversion.