About Adam (2000)

D: Gerard Stembridge
S: Stuart Townsend, Kate Hudson

Sprightly romantic comedy from writer/director Gerry Stembridge (Guiltrip) notable for being among the first Irish films to lack interest in 'Irishness' (though the recent Flick made a stab at it). It's a wickedly funny story of the romance which springs up between handsome everyman Stuart Townsend and radiant Kate Hudson (daughter of Goldie Hawn, also seen in Almost Famous). He seems to be everything she's dreamt of in a man but never known it. She's one of three daughters in a well to do Dublin family. As the movie progresses, Adam works his way through all three of them, presenting each with a different personality and providing them all with the kind of romance they really want even though they're very different from one another. Like Guiltrip, About Adam has a slippery structure which plays fast and loose with the timeline. It makes use of multiple perspectives on a single incident, and concerns itself the angles on events seen only by particular characters and shared by the audience. He plays it strictly for laughs though, and by showing parts of the story repeatedly with different camera angles and different nuances in the character's responses, he gives us a comic Irish Rashomon. This doesn't make it great cinema, but it is at least clever and at best well realised. It has its tongue firmly in its cheek, but it is also the most deliberately amoral Irish film ever to grace Irish screens.

Stembridge's reputation has steadily been built over the years as a writer, first with the satiric radio show Scrap Saturday, then later with scripts for films including Ordinary Decent Criminal (not his finest hour) and Nora. With Guiltrip came a sense that a definite cinematic personality was poised to emerge, informed by European and American models of filmmaking yet able to carve out a niche for itself within the Irish market without irritating the purists. There is an awkward reliance on inner monologue running through the film and it does depend heavily on situation and dialogue, but About Adam is a long way from the clumsy hybrid of theatre and film of Saltwater and less pleased with its own clever speeches than I Went Down. Stembridge makes good use of the camera to throw inflections on the action. He even subtly subverts his own story, adding a touch of parody to it which allows him to get away with the ending. Aided by cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer, Stembridge matches the visual style of the film with the tonal register of the individual romantic interludes. This may be obvious, but it works well. He moves from the playfully innocent, quick-paced romantic courtship with which the film begins (which reflects Hudson's cheery personality) to a rain-drenched midsection where the moodier sister (Frances O'Connor) contemplates feminist identity as she sleeps with her sister's boyfriend. Then there's the breezier, more farcical scene where the younger brother (Alan Maher) plots to seduce his girlfriend with Adam's help only to find he's becoming attracted to Adam himself. Finally there's the sophisticated, upmarket look of the final seduction when the older, married sister (Charlotte Bradley) falls for the interloper's charms amid the trappings of South Dublin opulence seen increasingly in Irish films of late.

This kind of cinematic savviness adds to the fun, but most people will simply respond to the story and performances, which are good. Hudson, O'Connor, and Bradley are playing stereotypes admittedly, but each comes across well in their respective roles (shaky accents aside). They are set off nicely by Townsend's chameleon-like character, and the actor clearly enjoys playing subtle variations in gesture, posture, and facial expression. Rosaleen Linehan does her usual fine job of playing a cheerfully theatrical Matriarch and there's an amusing cameo for radio dramatist Roger Gregg in the film's final scenes. Tommy Tiernan has a funny supporting role as a miserable comedian dumped by Hudson at the outset, and Cathleen Bradley gets to play one big moment as Maher's girlfriend, but really this is a movie about the three women and their multi-faceted man. Though this is not a film to take seriously, it does enough with these characters to make them interesting and funny while the movie runs, and the audience is invited to share Townsend's wry grin in the final scene rather than sit and cast serious judgment on anything they have seen.

About Adam is a terrific opener for Irish film in the year 2001 and deserves the wide audience it aims for. It's still not quite as slick as its big-budget Hollywood equivalents, but there is plenty of fun to be had here for a local audience and almost as much for anyone else.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.