For Irish playwright Gerard Stembridge, writing and directing his second film, “About Adam,” was a way of challenging both the status quo in today’s romantic comedies and the old-fashioned way in which Irish life is generally portrayed in movies. In a recent Dallas interview, he explained how the picture–about a handsome young man who entrances not only a waitress-singer played by recent Oscar nominee Kate Hudson, but her two sisters and brother as well (all of whom see him very differently as the object of whatever it is they desire)–is designed to challenge convention: Adam (the blankly seductive Stuart Townsend) might be thought a scoundrel for getting involved with all four siblings, but he’s so charming that when, at the close, he looks straight at the audience, he’s fairly certain to find them smiling rather than scowling at the outcome.
“Mainstream cinema has been making romantic comedies for at least the last fifteen years or so which all do the same story,” Stembridge said. “I wanted to make a film for people who are a bit tired of those kind of comedies and who think there is a way in which you can be funny and you can express a kind of exhilarating view about the world without necessarily conforming to a particular moral code which, for some reason or another, Hollywood has decided it should present to the public even though Hollywood itself doesn’t remotely conform to that moral code.”
Stembridge objected to the suggestion that his picture was a male fantasy about bedding three sisters and then marrying one of them with the suggestion that she forget the past. “The real characters [in the film] are the women,” he argued. “Adam is the sort of sex-symbol character that most often women are depicted as in films. He’s just a bit a fluff, in a way. He is only what the women want him to be, or decide he is or think he is. But I was never bothered to find out what motivates him,…or even what’s real, what they think [about him]. The whole point of the film is how we can never get to the truth of anything. We can only guess, to see the world through subjective vision. I’m very interested to find in cinema ways to project that idea–the sheer delight in the kind of adventure and excitement and occasionally the embarrassment and occasionally a little of the shame of what you’ve done, but you move on. Why do we always have to present our comedies in what I consider to be really puritanical terms?”
Stembridge paused to take another puff on his cigar. “The whole trick of the film…is that you trick the audience into being charmed by this situation. When Adam…turns and looks at the camera, looks effectively at the audience, he’s effectively asking the audience to also decide whether they like or don’t like [it]. Actually it doesn’t matter whether you like or don’t like [it], because that’s not the point. The point is, you realize something about yourself in your answer, you realize something about how you view the world and how you view such actions and such people. And I think that’s far more interesting than being told what to think at the end of the film.”
Structurally “About Adam” emphasizes this intent (and certainly differs from most contemporary comedies) by showing the audience the same sequence repeatedly, but from the perspectives of various characters, who interpret things very differently. “The first thing I think about when I start to put a story together–or write a screenplay–is, what will the structure of the story be?” Stembridge explained. “Because I really believe that how you tell the story is a very important part of the meaning of the story. Very good ideas in cinema have been reduced to a formula…and one of these is the three-act structure for a film, which is a very good idea and a very sound idea and a classic form of making a cinema script, but [it] has become almost a rule, a formula that every young scriptwriter is told they must abide by. I naturally react against that. And because I’m interested in screenplays that are really about people and about how people think and behave, I’m always trying to look for the way in which you can tell the story that will help to reveal more of that rather than just tell a story straight off.” So necessary did he think the picture’s unusual construction was to his vision that Stembridge had it in his contract that if the producers decided to re-edite the final product in a more conventional way, his name would be removed from the result.
“About Adam” is unusual not only in being a romantic comedy that tells its story without obvious heroes or villains or heavy-handed moralizing and employs a complicated structure in the process, but in depicting a more carefree, modern kind of Irish life than films ordinarily present. “We’re tired of being represented–of representing ourselves–that way,” Stembridge said, referring to the gloomy, priest-ridden atmosphere most pictures give of the Emerald Isle. “Why, in a country where we’re generally very cheerful, devil-may-care sort of people, do we persist in presenting these films that are completely miserable and dreary and rain-swept? This isn’t Ireland as we know it.”
One part of “Adam” that’s not authentic, of course, is Hudson, but Stembridge was enthusiastic about her contribution to the film. She wasn’t the actress he’d first thought of, he admitted, but Miramax, which produced the picture, encouraged him to cast at least one American for financial reasons. “It took them long enough to get me to agree to cast an American in any event,” he recalled. “What happened was, obviously from a marketing point of view, Miramax would worry that there would be nobody in the film that anybody had ever heard of. It makes life very tough for them. So what we agreed to do was, they sort of pre-selected at least a dozen young actresses–you probably know them all–and I went to Los Angeles and met about a dozen of them. And Kate emerged out of that. She just made me laugh a lot, I must say. She’s a very funny girl, and she was dead right for the part. And a little extra, which I didn’t really believe when she told me, was that she also has a really good singing voice. She does the actual singing in the soundtrack of the film. That’s a real plus.”
Her speaking voice isn’t bad, either. “She does a fantastic job–all the critics in Ireland have been raving about what a good Irish accent [she does]. She captured very precisely what I would call the Dublin middle-class young person’s accent,” Stembridge enthused.
And if Miramax’s hopes are realized, Hudson’s presence will be successful in attracting American viewers to Gerard Stembridge’s rather skewed take on romance, Dublin-style.