I watched Adam this weekend, for the piece that I’m working on. Again, the details on what I thought of Hugh Dancy’s performance as a young man with Asperger syndrome are going to have to wait for that piece. But I was struck, as I frequently am, by Peter Gallagher’s lack of vanity in the movie. I’m not sure I mean that in a conventional way. Gallagher’s an extremely good-looking man, and he seems reasonably aware of it. He frequently shows up in movies or television looking aristocratic, and he frequently plays rich: it lets him dress commensurate to his looks. But he’s also willing to play a fairly terrible person a whole lot of the time.
In While You Were Sleeping, the first romantic comedy I ever saw, and that I think of like Casablanca–because its wacky family, mistaken identity, and girl with a job that doesn’t truly reflect her talents have been repeated so frequently, it’s hard to remember that the movie was so fresh and charming when it first came out–Gallagher plays a good-looking lawyer who happens to be a dreadful guy. When he’s mugged and falls onto the El tracks, Sandra Bullock saves his life, and then lets his family think the two are engaged. It turns out that he was dating an awful, shallow blonde, is deeply estranged from his family, hell, the guy even knocked a nest of squirrels out of a tree as a kid so he could get credit for saving them. And of course Sandra Bullock ends up with his brother, leaving him at the altar. He’s a very good-looking patsy. And what works about the performance is Gallagher’s lack of awareness. He decides to redeem when the woman he thinks can be the agent of his redemption is falling for someone else. And he realizes that she’s not in love with him when it’s far, far too late to win her back.
The same is essentially true in Adam, although his being a terrible, terrible person has more significant consequences. He plays Rose Byrne’s father, an accountant who’s been indicted for cooking the books of a firm run by the daughter of a family friend with whom he had an affair. He also tells Rose Byrne’s character to end her relationship with Hugh Dancy’s Adams. In other words, he’s a schmuck, and ends up on his ass, in the snow, alienated from his daughter. Most actors would insist on being redeemed in some of their roles. Gallagher is unusually, and admirably, willing to end movies looking like an ass.